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Julz’ World - High on life in Holland

Julz’ World - High on life in Holland

By Julie Symons

One of the inexplicable peculiarities of Europe is that each nationality has its distinct character traits, despite the countries being connected on the same plot of land.

Case in point: the Dutch.

Why are they so down to earth and friendly, without the histrionics of the Italians or the aloofness of certain other European countries?

Why are they content to ride bicycles when people are considered less than human to drive anything cheaper than a convertible in Switzerland?

Some might say it’s the drugs. I’ve decided it’s the pancakes.

Holland is an absolute delight to visit, as I had the good fortune to discover recently. After all, any country that has the good sense to dedicate entire restaurants to pancakes obviously has something going for it.

And contrary to popular tourist belief, there’s more to this country than the coffee shops, canals, art galleries and sex shops of Amsterdam.

I visited Apeldoorn, a city about 1.5 hours east of Amsterdam. It’s known for its palace and its monkey park, but my stomach and I didn’t get beyond the centre of town.

In true stereotypical female style I was drawn like a magnet to the shopping streets. Completely car free, the main street caused my eyes to widen like saucepans and my wallet to virtually open on reflex. After Switzerland everything seemed so cheap, although the locals – like their counterparts in other EU countries – have found the price of living depressingly higher since the introduction of the EURO. But the variety of stock is fantastic. I found DVDs from New Zealand that I’d never even heard of back home, the world’s most delicious biscuits (toffee pops excluded) called “stroopwafels”, and a market filled with a terrific array of enormous cheeses and fresh fish. I sampled the Dutch equivalent of fish ‘n chips – “Kibbeling” – and a fried meat stick called Kroket that resembled dog food on the inside but tasted significantly better (not that I’ve ever tried pet food but you get the point).

We visited the Pannekoekhuis, a gastronomic delight of a restaurant that serves 150 varieties of savoury and sweet pancakes. And we found another treasure of a restaurant that specialised in Poffertjes, miniature pancakes (even smaller than pikelets) that come smothered in sweet toppings like peaches.

Afterwards we worked off the food and fulfilled my goal of acting “really Dutch” by riding bicycles around town. Or at least my Dutch friend rode – I sort of swerved dangerously from one side of the path to the other, causing other cyclists to take evasive action (although, come to think of it, that’s also what I did as a pedestrian). Biking in Holland was something of a revelation. It’s regarded as such an essential element of day-to-day life, Apeldoorn is full of cycling paths and traffic lights solely for cyclists – but even so I still managed a near miss with a bus. I couldn’t get the hang of biker’s etiquette either. There are so many rules, such as sticking to certain sides of the bike lanes depending on whether you’re turning a block up ahead or not. The bikes themselves are wonderfully old-fashioned looking, like something from the Second World War, but the design is deceiving because they have lots of gears.

The highlight of the weekend however was hitting the town. Apeldoorn’s not as “alternative” as Amsterdam (in other words you won’t find prostitutes behind shop windows or obvious places to buy drugs) but it has a thriving night-club quarter. We spent the whole night propping up a bar while a gorgeous bartender constantly refilled our glasses with top-shelf liquors for free. (How the pub makes money is anyone’s guess.) The regulars lip-synched to the songs with us and as the night wore on everyone looked so familiar I felt like it was my local. At closing time we joined the lock-in and helped clear off the tables. Who would have thought, at work in Switzerland on Friday, that by 4am Sunday I’d be chucking away beer soaked coasters in a Dutch bar? Between that and the mouth-watering pancakes, genuine people and great shops, my weekend was infinitely better than any hallucination.

THE END

ã Copyright Julie Symons 2002

For more Julz’ World columns, see www.spectator.co.nz/julzworld

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