I thought I would give a quick summary of my trip to the Netherlands.
I left on April 14th, 2009 and returned eleven days later. My daughter Taylor was studying there for a semester, as part of Baylor University’s Study Abroad program. She took 8 weeks of classes and got to travel every weekend as well as the last month.
When I landed in Amsterdam, at Schipol airport (pronounced “skip-ol”), I knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as Taylor described to find a train to Maastricht. Maastricht is a town in the Netherlands that is at the very southern tip, neatly tucked between Belgium and Germany. After I bought my train ticket, I got three different descriptions of which platform to go to. That’s when I almost started to cry. But then God brought me a friend from Atlanta, Georgia who was also confused and also going to Maastricht. Carrie was training for three weeks with an equestrian professional but her flight was canceled due to a storm so she rather than flying to Belgium, she flew to Amsterdam. Even though both of us were unsure of our task, we gave each other courage. God brought just the right people on the train to tell us when to move up a car. Apparently rear cars get unhooked and go a different way.
Taylor met me at the train station and gave me a tour of her town. Maastricht has a very European flair; it’s much less Dutch than the northern part of The Netherlands. We had lunch in a town square. I literally was in shock at the way the Dutch people ride their bikes. They roar down cobblestone streets in high heels, carrying purses, and briefcases, as well as carting children and talking on cell phones. There are very few cars and bicycles have the right of way. Taylor showed me her dorm that is in a building leased out by a Japanese company. It also contains a hospital, which makes it very clean. We picked up a few groceries and ate in her room. As hard as I tried to stay awake, I was asleep by 6.
The next morning we went for a walk to her university, which was about 40 minutes away. We stopped to ride a teeter-totter, and had a sandwich at her favorite little spot. Then we looked at a five-star hotel that is housed in a medieval monastery. We shopped in a bookstore that used to be a cathedral. It’s sad how little the Europeans worship God. Afterwards we caught a bus that took us ten miles outside of Maastricht to a WW II cemetery of 8000 US soldiers. That was sobering, but cool to think that our guys helped end the war. It was very serene and beautiful and we were actually standing on US soil.
The following day was dreary and rainy so we chose that day to go to the spa. You can read all about our crazy adventures by going here (believe me, you will chuckle when you read what happened): Taylor’s Blog
Then we took a train to Delft to stay at a funky Bed and Breakfast. I met a man from Qatar, which is near Dubais. We had a wonderful discussion about everything from American politics to faith. He even invited my family to visit. Delft is famous for it’s canals, Royal Delft China, and the great artist Vermeer (You might know his work from the book/movie The Girl with the Pearl Earring). We used Delft as our launching point to get to The Hague, which is the seat of the Dutch parliament. We also went to the town of Lisse (pronounced “liss-a”) to see the tulips. Words can’t describe how happy those fields of color made me. We also took time to take a tour at the china factory. In The Hague we went shopping and saw the Van Gogh exhibit at IMAX. It was incredibly moving to see Van Gogh’s work explained and shown in gigantic proportions overhead. The Hague is also near the beach so we stayed long enough to put our toes in the sand. Even though it was cold, it felt good to dig into that talcum-soft beach.
We took a train south into Belgium and met an 18-year old girl and her mother. They were happy to sit with us because we were Americans and the girl spoke English. After we pried, they told us their story: They are Russian and were part of the ethnic war in Chechnya. The girl’s father was killed and burned in 1992. Missionaries came and took the girl to Cape town, South Africa, where she lived with a wealthy family who taught her English. Then they returned her to her mother. Three months ago they fled to a refugee camp in Liege, Belgium. They were promised asylum but something happened in Poland on their way, which has to do with papers and fingerprints. Now they are being forced back to Russia where it is still very dangerous. Taylor and I wanted to give them money. At first they refused and got embarrassed. Finally they relented and smothered our necks with kisses. All four of us were crying.
We spent the day in Bruges, Belgium famous for old European neighborhoods, canals, shopping, drinking beer, and eating chocolate.
Finally, we took the train to Amsterdam. I think it was good that I had adjusted to some of the Dutch idiosyncrasies before I got to this city otherwise I would have been overwhelmed. Our B & B had said they were only a short walk from the train station. So we headed straight down the street in front of us, and then asked a man coming out of a building for directions. We failed to notice the red streetlights on the building: he had just walked out of a brothel. Though our B & B was nice, there were women displaying their sexual favors right outside our front door.
The owners of the B & B were interesting. The first thing the man asked was, “Will you be doing the drugs? If so we recommend you don’t eat the cookies and cakes or use the mushrooms.”
This was going to be interesting.
The woman who owned the B & B was from Italy and her husband was from Amsterdam. In addition to running the B & B, he is professional car photographer. Their 15-month old baby and Jack Russell terriers entertained us. We went to the Van Gogh and Rycks museums, home to incredible masterpieces. We had Thai food delivered and watched Oceans 12 in our room. (Oceans 12 was filmed in Amsterdam so that was fun.)
Highlights of Amsterdam were seeing the canals and old buildings. Did you know the homes were taxed on the size of the bottom floor? This is why they are so tall and skinny. They also have a hoist near the roof that is used to bring furniture into the upper stories. We visited the Anne Frank house museum. The sadness of that building is stifling as you see the actual wallpaper and pictures adorned on the walls of the secret annex where Anne’s family hid for 25 months before being sent to concentration camps and dying.
Taylor has a friend from Baylor University in Waco, Texas who graduated and is now getting a masters degree in Amsterdam. Mark gave us a tour of the coffee shops, which aren’t as seedy as you might expect. We actually went into a classy one and had a glass of wine. Ordinary people smoked marijuana cigarettes and talked. He took us for a quick jaunt through the real red light district. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. Rather than arresting the girls, police protect them and the city taxes them. It was sad and surreal seeing these women all dolled up, wearing very little, and beckoning men into their little red-curtained rooms.
I couldn’t wait to leave.
Mark took us on a picnic in Vondel Park which is Amsterdam’s version of Central Park. We had a yummy lunch of gourmet hummus, fresh ciabatta bread, turkey, and apples, crackers, wine, and Gouda cheese. Mark is a wonderful tour guide, warm and friendly, and he answered all 300 of my questions.
All in all it was a great trip.
Now for a few of the idiosyncrasies of the Dutch people:
- They are very introverted and private. For instance, no one stares or studies each other at cafes or on trains. They never look up to notice you. They often don’t have curtains and you can peer right into their homes, but I’ve heard it’s rare to be invited into a Dutch home. If they do, the saying goes, “You can come between 4 and 5 o’clock and you get one cookie.” They don’t smile a lot, but they are very helpful if you stop and ask them a question. It was hard for me to juxtapose their introversion with their liberal views on sex and drugs.
- Most Dutch people speak English as well as two or three other languages.
- Their toilets have weird flat shelves at the bottom of the toilet bowl.
- They all know how to ride bikes. I read they are even tested in Kindergarten.
- We weren’t served any eggs in our B & Bs. When I asked some Dutch people on the train they said, “No we don’t really eat eggs. And certainly not like in America where you have all the choices of fried, omelet, or scrambled.”
- The restaurant server won’t bring your check unless you ask, and you are not expected to tip. Waiters are not paid based on how friendly they are, so they are not overly friendly.
- They are very nice looking people. Extremely tall and trim. I read the tour guide Rick Steves quote that said, “The Dutch sit at their cafes smoking and drinking beer all day and wonder why Americans are killing themselves on Big Macs.” I think I only saw two heavy people the entire time we were there. But it seems like everyone smokes, including young teens.
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty teacher at Colorado Christian University.
She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice."