Friday, May 17, 2013

A taste (and drink?) of Holland ...

Two paling (smoked eel) ... yes, I
love eating this delicacy.
     Some things I love most about Holland: My old friends -- salty licorice, fresh herring broodjes (sandwiches), Leiden kaas (cheese), beschuit (rusk) with hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), pekelvlees (corned beef) and, best of all, paling (smoked eel).
      Yes, so Dutch. And so self-indulgent. Sorry.
Dutch cheese ... anytime.
       Bea could only shake her head as my taste buds revisited their roots. There was also Advokaat, an eggnog-based drink -- the only alcohol I ever try -- which was added to the list when my Dad occasionally would receive a bottle, or bring it back on a trip to Holland.
        A few of these treats are available in the U.S., but it takes some effort (and some money). I did not bring back any of these items, so I'll have to savor them through memory. But if you see a bottle of Advokaat in a liquor store, you know where to send it.
       We in the U.S. should not take our lifestyle for granted -- our cars, our variety of choices in clothes and food and supermarkets (we have seven in our immediate area), our gas prices (compared to Holland, we have a bargain), postal services (it took us three days to buy the right stamps for postcards and find a postbox; never did see a post office) and ...
       Free public toilets, and free water and ice.
The bottle with the yellow stuff in the
middle: Advokaat (eggnog-based)

       Don't take this as a complaint. That's just life in Holland, and maybe in all of Europe.
        If you need a public toilet -- say, as at Amsterdam's Centraal Station -- have 50 cents ready. That's what it will cost you. Just as you would when you enter a stadium or arena, an attendant will let you through a turnstile after you pay.
        At least, our niece Abby -- who spent time studying at the University of Leiden -- had told us beforehand about the toilet situation.
        Even at a great facility such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, toilets are hard to find. They were in the basement of a five-story museum ... a place that just reopened after a 10-year renovation. Obviously, toilets weren't a priority.
         Now, about drinking water ... we looked for public water fountains. Haven't found one yet. At restaurants in the U.S., a glass of water (with ice, if desired) is standard, usually the first order of business. In Holland, this doesn't happen.
         You can buy bottled water ... if it was available. Often it wasn't. You could get soda water or mineral water or carbonated water ... no, thank you. Personal choice: I'm not a fan of any kind of bottled water anyway.
        When Bea asked someone at the Rijksmuseum where a water fountain was located,  she was told she should get tap water from the sink in the basement restroom. And she did.
         When we went to a restaurant near the Rijksmuseum, we asked for a glass of water with our lunch. No, that wasn't an option ... unless we bought a bottle of mineral water or unless we bought another drink (such as coffee for Bea). And with that cup of coffee came a glass with one ounce of water (intended to weaken the coffee, we suppose).
         What we were told was that many people carry a water bottle with them and fill those bottles with that tap water from any restrooms they can find (even if they have to pay to get into the restroom). So next time -- yeah, next time we go to Europe -- we'll carry water bottles.
       Even on our cruise boat, water was hard to get. Water was available for breakfast, but with lunch and dinner, the idea was for you to buy a drink -- bottled water, coffee, tea, soda, whatever.
        My choice, even here since I stopped drinking sweet tea regularly, is always water ... free water. I'll drink bottled water, but only if I really need to.
        Water is one of Holland's most valuable and abundant resources, a vital ingredient in the country's industry -- fishing, shipping, recreation. There are rivers, lakes, canals, polders everywhere, the nearby North Sea. The Dutch's battles with the sea and flooding, the elaborate dikes/drainage systems, are legendary.
        So Bea's view of the water situation was notable.
        "Water, water everywhere," she kept saying, "and not a drop to drink."
         Not free, anyway.
         Riding the tram -- streetcar -- is not as enjoyable as riding the trains in Holland. The trams are much bumpier, usually much more crowded, and it takes longer; there are many more stops.
         But riding the tram is something I had to do several times. I wanted to, because in my first 8 1/2 years when I lived in Amsterdam, Dad was a streetcar driver. This is how I first remember him, in his streetcar uniform, the uniform that he said I would try on in the early 1950s. We have several photos of him in his uniform holding me when I was less than a year old.
         So riding the No. 9 line from Centraal Station to Rembrantplein was extra special; No. 9 was the line Dad drove. And riding the 17 line from downtown to our old neighborhood was special, too.
         When I went back to Amsterdam for the first time, in 1991 36 years after coming to the U.S., the first time we got on a tram, Dad took a seat right behind the driver and proceeded to chat him up about his career as a driver. He loved being back in the seat up front. (If the driver had asked him, I'm sure Dad would have changed places with him.)
          Darned right thoughts of that day came back to me this time. And in my mind's eye, I could still see Dad, in his uniform, steering the No. 9 line.


  1. From Sandy Thrasher Ourso: One of my fondest memories of Amsterdam is being there when the North Sea herring ships pulled in. I ate raw herring, and it was fabulous. Regarding bathroom adventures, nothing can top parts of Eastern Europe and Asia where sometimes, even in public facilities like the train stations, one has to enter a stall and squat over a hole in the ground.

  2. From Christy Bickham: Great story! Great! I didn't make it to Amsterdam , but did go to Bruge. I fell in love with cuberdons! Have you had those!?