A couple of years ago, fellow blogger and current King of Holland Invader Stu offered me the post of being the Minister of Transport for Holland. Being unemployed at the time, I gladly accepted the job offer with great gusto.
The Holland 305 Project featured sweeping and
controversial innovative reforms regarding the transportation systems of the Netherlands as based on those used in South Florida, namely eliminating bus and bicycle lanes and forcing people to be totally dependent on cars.
However, it seems that I had been going on the original reforms of The Holland 305 Project the wrong way. King Stu insisted that the Dutch keep their bicycle lanes. As this short video demonstrates, they went through quite a bit of protesting during the '70s regarding child safety and environmental protection.
As Minister of Transport, I decreed that the Dutch would keep their bikes.
Two years passed with my being on the job and I couldn't help but face one glaring fact: I had a high-ranking position, and I still had yet to set foot in the Netherlands. Not even my ominous cartoon of "SOON" written across the country in vibrant red letters made much sense.
Wanting to personally experience the good work of my fulfilling position, I booked a flight straight to Schiphol airport and stayed one week to discover the country for which I had been working. I was also accompanied by a friend who flew over from Dublin and we ended up residing in a hotel outside of Amsterdam.
After settling into the hotel room, we decided to take a train from Almost-Amsterdam to Amsterdam Centraal Station. It was at the train station at Almost-Amsterdam that I encountered the first hindrance that needed some reformation: the station was manned solely by ticket-vending/OV-chipkaart recharge machines, not actual human beings.
What's worse: these machines accepted either only specific credit cards (apparently, the top popular ones of Visa and Mastercard just didn't cut it) or cash...in the form of coins. No, not even bank notes, coins. I jotted this particular inconvenience in my Minister of Transport notebook for things that needed improvement.
Luckily, all was not at a loss. The station may not have been equipped with real personnel, but it did have a couple of SOS call boxes that allowed people to communicate with an invisible being. I dubbed these boxes as "the god box." After pressing the button, the intercom crackled, and a woman's voice with a charming Dutch accent came through.
Thus the god box had so decreed. My friend and I waited for the next train and upon its arrival, we set ourselves on a quest to seek someone who looked like they might work for Nederlandse Spoorwegen. We boarded a second-class carriage, heard the doors shut behind us and peered at who else was in the compartment. Nobody else except other passengers. A heavy sensation of guilt struck my stomach and, mildly panicked, I suggested to my friend that at the next stop (Schiphol airport), we would get off and ask someone to purchase tickets.
Luckily, at the Schiphol airport stop, I was informed by a helpful Nederlandse Spoorwegen employee that there were indeed real living, breathing human beings who worked at the ticket counters.
"You can't miss them," he said. "You'll see them, the crazy people. They are my co-workers!"
Thus far, I was very impressed by the Dutch bilingual tendency of being able to speak English well enough to have an excellent grasp of its fluency to make jokes. I found the aforementioned "crazy people," purchased tickets and eventually made it to Amsterdam Centraal. My friend and I omitted to using the public transportation for one night and opted to explore the city on foot.
Strolling down the main street lined with illuminated kiosks and bustling tourists like myself, I was blown away by the decorations of the Christmas market. Living out in the French countryside, I had almost forgotten that large cities actually made the effort to spread the cheer with lights, garlands and, in Amsterdam's case, a man dressed head to toe in a snowman costume dancing in an inflatable snow globe.
I could have kept on strolling all night just looking at the decorations. My friend, on the other hand, had other priorities. Within the first five minutes of our evening promenade in the Christmas market, he voiced his desire of finding a Coffee Shop.
"I haven't seen any Coffee Shops since we've been here."
"Really?," I asked, incredulously. "We've passed at least three of them already."
"WHAT?! Why didn't you tell me?!"
"Uh...'cause I'm not actually looking for them like you are?"
Now, for those who may not be in the know, I am indeed a big fan of coffee, particularly of sweetened Cuban espresso. Prior to departing to the Netherlands, I had heard that this country is actually known for having an enthusiastically high consumption rate of coffee. Therefore, being the coffee lover, I was stoked to go out and taste Dutch coffee.
However, don't be fooled for one second that I was about to mistake a café with the Dutch "Coffee Shops," establishments which certainly do sell beverages but are more well-known for providing marijuana to the clientele.
(Just so we're clear on this: no, I didn't ingest or smoke any pot while I was in the Netherlands. I did, however, become proficient at recognizing the smell of pot simply by walking past giggling, red-eyed tourists.)
My friend eventually found a placed called the Bulldog and skipped inside to purchase some pot. I sat outside and, pinching my nose at the stank aroma emanating from the building, took pictures of the canal across the street.
My friend lit his joint on the spot and spent the rest of the evening walking around the city with bloodshot eyes.
The following day proved to be a wet one. We lingered in the hotel in the morning hoping that the day would improve. We eventually made the short trek under the rain to the train station (pre-purchased train tickets in tow) and arrived at Amsterdam Centraal. During the ride, we discussed what we wanted to do. I wanted to go to Vondelpark and see some museums. So did my friend. He also wanted to purchase a lighter, see another Coffee Shop and take a tour of the Red Light District.
With the poor weather, we didn't do much that day apart from walking around a street lined with several "massage parlors," walking in Kalverstraat and sitting at a café to have some coffee and hot chocolate.
|In front of the train station|
And not just any bed: a four-poster bed floating like a boat.
|I kinda want to have this bed back home...|
We shopped at the supermarket chain Albert Heijn where I purchased some dairy products. I don't know what makes Dutch milk so tasty, but even I have to admit its flavor is superior to French milk.
Night time approached and my friend reiterated his desire to see the Red Light District. I sighed and thought that I might as well get it over with.
To be honest, the Red Light District didn't shock me as much as I thought it would. Living in France and seeing topless models splashed on porno magazines in the local newspaper stand have dulled me to feeling much, if any, horror. Yes, there were indeed scantily-clad ladies modestly advertising themselves and their sexual acts behind illuminated glass windows, but if anything, the whole spectacle of seeing silent, living mannequins made me feel a bit sad for them. (Besides, there wasn't anything remotely interesting for me. Shows with "Live shagging?" No, thanks.)
In fact, the feature that truly fascinated me the most about the Red Light District was seeing the canal filled with a flock of swans.
(Again, I'm a fairly boring individual.)
We returned to the hotel and being thirsty, I tore into the milk carton of something called "chocolade vla." I assumed that the container, being a milk carton, bearing a picture of a cow, had contents that were fit for a drink.
I tore the top, grabbed a white mug and tipped the carton over the mug.
Rather than having a creamy stream of fluid pour out, the unctuous "vla" dripped in a lugubrious fashion.
"But...what IS this?" I wondered, perplexed.
|Hint: it's NOT milk.|
|The milk-like packaging also doesn't help.|
|But it was still good.|
|Doing some more bicycle research|
|And fashion research.|
...the Flower Market...
...and a couple of cafés providing nice food and selling good Belgian beers. It took nearly an hour of roaming the streets to find these places and each one, to our dismay, was fully booked for dinner and featured a waiting time of an hour and a half. Still, I had my nice Belgian beer for the evening and was a considerably happier Minister of Transport.
Walking around the glowing Amsterdam neighborhoods, a stark contrast to dim French streets that cover every window with shutters past 9 p.m., my friend was shocked to discover that the Dutch had a considerable lack of curtains to cover the windows. And it really disturbed him.
"Ah! I really don't like this! I don't like this at all! You look straight into their houses and see what they are doing!"
"So, let me get this straight," I started, "you have absolutely no qualms about smoking marijuana or seeing prostitutes, but not having curtains on a house bothers you?" He chuckled sheepishly.
Not wanting to limit my travel to an Amsterdam-centric voyage, I reserved tickets to visit the port city of Rotterdam.
Waiting at the station, I was dismayed by the large typos seen on the special-edition orange train.
It's supposed to stay "Stuart," not Alexander. As Minister of Transport, I order that this discrepancy will have to be rectified.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived in Rotterdam. It is much calmer than Amsterdam, is home to the impressive Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, and, with its port, had a feel of Belfast.
|A well-functioning tramway.|
I instantly loved Rotterdam.
The following day proved eventful. I had arranged to meet up with my employer and the Royal Family in the city of Heerenveen, right in the province of Friesland. I couldn't ask to have better bosses like King Stu, Queen Simone and Princess Sophie.
|This grand masterpiece is entitled "The Totally Legit Official Royal Portrait," Barb the French Bean, 2014, Sablé-sur-Sarthe. It was made using the medium of colored pixels on MS Paint.|
|I finally saw some curtains in the Netherlands.|
|Just your friendly neighborhood windmill.|
Like all good journeys, one week simply isn't enough time to discover a country. I sincerely hope that I'll have the opportunity to further review the museums (the Rijksmuseum is DEFINITELY worth a visit) and chug several liters of Chocomel and eat Frisian treats.
|Courtesy of the Royal Family (Thanks, guys!)|
One more thing: the annual nomination round for the Bloggies has come around again. Please, please, PLEASE vote for Invading Holland under "Best European Blog."
You do have to nominate two other blogs under this category (*cough, cough, nudge, nudge*), but all I ask is that you vote for King Stu!
And just so you get the idea about how serious the Dutch are with their bikes, get a load of this:
It's a multi-level parking garage, for bikes. This brings tears of joy to my Minister of Transport eyes.
Barb the French Bean