May 132010

Just a few observations about the Netherlands before I continue with the narrative…

  • Amsterdam couldn’t feel more different than Rotterdam; whereas Rotterdam is ultra-modern, with glistening skyscrapers and sharp angles, Amsterdam is something like one huge outdoors museum – beautiful clocktowers and churches and intricate facades, traditional brick homes with pointy triangular roofs lining thin picturesque canals. There’s scarcely a modern building to ruin the immersive experience. It really is quite beautiful.
  • Throughout my various travels I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying languages and accents, including languages I’ve never officially studied. But to me, Dutch just sounds funny – and entirely unrecognizable. One moment I think I’m hearing accented Brazilian Portuguese and the next moment it sounds like Russian – but it’s always Dutch. Maybe my inability to identify it comes from Holland’s multiculturalism, and they really are speaking in a foreign accent. Nevertheless, I routinely find myself thinking “man, that language sounds so weird!”
  • Speaking of multiculturalism, I’ve been surprised at what a large population of religious Muslims there are. Almost everywhere you go there are women in veils and (to a lesser degree) men in skullcaps. They aren’t the majority of the population, but still quite a bit more than I would’ve guessed.
  • I take back what I said about the Netherlands having way nicer weather than Munich. There have been one or two really spectacular days, but in general it’s been overcast and gloomy…or raining. I really do like almost everything about it so far – but if the weather is routinely gloomy, it’d be a dealbreaker for me. Nice weather is just too important.
  • Because the formation of the EU has eliminated the need to have your passport stamped when moving between countries, when traveling by train you sometimes can’t tell when you’ve left one nation – and its language, culture, and people – behind. But here’s one way you can always tell: look at the trains themselves. Each country has their own unique designs, from Germany’s sleek white ICE trains to Holland’s two-story yellow and blue behemoths. Just glance out the window whenever you pass through a major station, and if the bulk of the trains look different from before, you know you’ve crossed a border.
  • Typically when you think of a “first-class ticket” you envision spacious reclining seats and fabulous service – obviously better than economy, even at a glance. But on Dutch trains, the difference is almost imperceptible. While riding from Rotterdam to Amsterdam I found myself accidentally seated in the first-class section, so upon checking my ticket, the conductor asked me to move. On the other side of the door was another set of seats that looked identical to where I was sitting. “This is first-class and that’s second? What’s the difference?” I asked. “Those seats are fake leather; this is ploosh (plush).” Who’d be willing to pay twice as much just to sit on ploosh is beyond me.
  • Dutch girls are gorgeous! Especially their eyes. Some of them just have the most amazingly beautiful sky blue eyes – like I’ve never seen in my life. In the words of Borat, “Very nice, I like” 🙂
  • Many people in the US equate The Netherlands with Amsterdam, thinking immediately of a no-rules, drug-crazy, prostitute-populated party city. But with the exception of Queen’s Day, that really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Holland is a clean, laid back place, no more crazy-feeling than anywhere I’ve been. Yes, marijuana is legal – but only in designated coffee shops; yes, so is prostitution – but it’s licensed and regulated, serving significantly more travelers than locals. If you didn’t set foot in Amsterdam’s one famous red-light district you probably wouldn’t notice any difference – in terms of “liberalness” – between it and any European city. It isn’t even legal to drink on the streets here, unlike Germany just a few dozen kilometers away.
  • Virtually everywhere in Amsterdam charges money to use the bathroom. Even fast food restaurants, even when ur a customer. Lame.

  10 Responses to “Netherlands Observations”

  1. Dutch is actually *very* similar to German. Just think of it, even ‘German’ in German is Deutch. You can get a long way with one or either and a spoonful of imagination.

    Didn’t know that about the bathrooms. Lame indeed.

  2. That is weird about the bathrooms

  3. Ey, you’re going to need to come to South Africa soon mate. 😉

  4. Peder: Really? That’s weird because to me German is *very* recognizable, and I had little trouble picking out various words that are similar to English…and while there clearly were many related words in Dutch as well, the language itself sounded very different to me.

    Andy: I know, right? Bars & nightclubs too, which even at 50cents a pop can really add up if you’re drinking the whole night and pit-stopping once an hour…

    Chris: Hehe one day! 🙂

  5. Note to self: hang on to empty bottles…perhaps wear them as a necklace. 😉

    I can’t believe you didn’t have a brownie…it’s almost sacrilegious to have not had one.

  6. Haha eeeeewwww 😛

  7. Hi Justin,

    It’s fun to read how you look at some of the strange things in our country.. Having to pay for the bathroom is somewhat reserved for the bigger cities in Holland.. Amsterdam is indeed the worst when it comes to this, and even as a dutchman I feel kinda pissed (no pun intended) to pay for the bathroom when I’m there..

    The 1st and 2nd class difference in trains makes indeed no sense, and I hardly ever see someone travel first class. The biggest advantage of travelling first class is the rest you get when in the almost empty train coupe 🙂

    Dutch girls are indeed gorgeous.. I’ve been in many places and the only place that can compare with Amsterdam is Stockholm, where the guys are ugly and the girls are just as beautiful. But the thing which make the dutch girls so attractive is usually how spontaneous they are. If you’ve been to the Vondelpark (I hope you did) you’ll find so many nice girls who are not only pretty but also easy to come in contact with. Just as the guys btw.. I’ve met so many nice people there, and the only city that came close to the good vibes of Amsterdam is San Francisco.

    Finally I would like to say that Dutch is indeed a very hard language, even for those who speak it fluently 🙂

    Unfortunately I could not meet you, and I was already on vacation when I read your email.. To make things worse my iPhone got stolen, so sorry I could not reply earlier on your email 🙂

    I hope you had a great time in Holland, and I’ll keep following your blog to see what other places you’ll be visiting 🙂

  8. Wow, that’s quite a reply! 🙂

    Regarding the bathrooms, it really is retarded. I’ve been all over the world and never experienced *anywhere* that does that (many places will of course say that bathrooms are for customers only, but never charge customers to use them – i.e. people who’ve already come in and spent money at that establishment).

    Regarding Vondelpark, unfortunately I didn’t make it – I knew about it, but with the exception of Queen’s Day pretty much my entire visit had cold & rainy weather – which didn’t really make people want to go outside.

    Shame…that’s how it is in Budapest now too…

  9. If it makes you feel any better; the weather in Barcelona and Lloret de Mar was also absolute shit.. In 10 days I’ve only seen 2 days of sunshine, which makes absolutely no sense for the middle of May.. Normally we have lots of sunshine and nice temperatures in around this time of year, and I’ve heard that this was the coldest month of May as of 1982 or something.. So I think we were both out of luck, and hopefully the weather will improve soon 🙂

    The bathroom thing is annoying, and I don’t really get why it’s this way here..

  10. I’m really praying my whole trip isn’t like this, though – the forecast in the next 3 countries I’m planning to visit is all crap for the next 2 weeks. If I’m in a room one block from the beach in Croatia and it’s pouring out, I’m going to be seriously pissed 😛

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