Land of the Stroopwafel

Groetjes, lovely blog readers! I’m back in Bonn after a 4-day lark in Holland.  Goodness, lots to write about…

Last year I went to Amsterdam for a weekend (and had an excellent Couch Surfing experience — shameless plug goes out to my first CS host, Ramon Stoppelenburg, thanks again!), but this time I was able to explore parts of the Netherlands slightly less frequented by tourists.  My first stop took me to Hoensbroek, in Limburgh, the southernmost province of Holland where my friend Charlotte grew up.  She and I were both a part of the BRIDGE program at UW-Madison that pairs American students with international exchange student partners, and roadtripped down to/couchsurfed in New Orleans during spring break.  I was eager to see what her hometown was like, and extremely excited to taste the Dutchiest of Dutch foods.

Charlotte welcomed me into her dad’s IKEA-decked-out house with a taste of Hagelslag, also known as chocolate sprinkles, eaten on bread with margarine  (see my photos for a better idea of all the Dutch stuff).  Maybe I haven’t traveled enough in America, but I’d never seen the type of house she lives in; it’s made up of two vertical sections, one for everyday life, the other built as an office or laboratory so that the commute to work takes about 15 seconds.  Quite practical.

I spent the day napping, eating various dairy products (turns out, they like cheese just as much as we in Wisconsin do), and biking off said dairy-calories with an hour and a half ride through the Limburgh countryside.  Charlotte was excited to prove that the Netherlands aren’t completely flat; Limburgh is the only province that has hills!  Actually, besides the architecture of the houses and the yellow-orange license plates on the cars, the whole ride looked (and smelled) suspiciously similar to a ride through Wisconsin farmlands.  Also, for those of you currently living under a rather large rock, you should know that the Dutch love their bikes.  And by love, I mean that pretty much everyone in the country owns at least one bike.  Charlotte herself owns three, though one is just for racing.  She was an excellent host, and lent me a bike for practically the entire time I visited.  Bikes = independence.  Or the excuse to eat more lemon quark…

The next day I slept in and took the train to Maastricht while Charlotte stayed at home and worked during the afternoon.  I spent the day exploring by myself, being more openly touristy than I normally am, relaxing in the city park and letting my ears absorb the guttural glory that is the Dutch language.  It’s a fun challenge to read newspapers in Dutch, because my knowledge of English and German lets me get about half of what’s going on.  Hearing spoken Dutch is another story, though I worked on learning the proper pronunciation from Charlotte and can now correctly say the following (and more…):

-Dank u, dank u wel, bedankt (thank you, in varying levels of formality)
-Graag gedaan (you’re welcome…or for you German speakers, something like “gern getan”)
-Slaap lekker (sleep well…though I like to think of it as “sleep deliciously”)
-Ik ben de vrienden (I am the friend!)
-uit, ui (out, onion)
-Gracht (canal…for example, Oudegracht en Nieuwegracht )
-Fiets (bike)
-Hagelslag, Kaas, Brootjes, and other assorted foods

However, my favorite Dutch words remain wentelteefjes (French Toast, or more literally translated: “turn me around, little bitch”) and, of course, stroopwafels (only the most delicious things on earth, after Holundersaft).  Otherwise, in Charlotte’s opinion, I shouldn’t get too wrapped up in learning Dutch; like the Swedes, they speak incredibly good English as a rule.

Now, after an afternoon in Maastricht, Charlotte met me for dinner and later that night we traveled on together to Utrecht, where she attends university.  The next day I met up with another Dutch student, Elmar, who also was a part of the BRIDGE program at Madison.  He gave me a nice tour of the city, where we climbed the 465 steps to the top of the Dom Tower…because, well, when I’m new in a city the first thing I want to do is conquer it by climbing the highest building I can find.  After the fall of Utrecht to my dominion, Elmar and I lunched victoriously as rain descended upon the city.  The weather cleared in time for us to wander around by the Oudegracht (canal) and meet up with Charlotte to play some pool.

That night, I shopped for food in what was (shockingly) not an Albert Heijn grocery store, pretended to be Dutch when checking out, proceeded to get slightly confused when the cashier was simply asking if I wanted my receipt (I smiled and nodded and it worked out just fine), biked home to the student housing and cooked dinner with two of Charlotte’s roommates.  She came home a bit later, and we watched Gegen die Wand, yet another German film.

I was able to have another mini-reunion the next day with two other Dutch friends, also ex-exchange students at Madison.  Wouter and Cas met me for lunch (Tostis! Lekker!) at de Neude, a square in central Utrecht.  It was great to have the chance to catch up with them and give them my impression of their university town in comparison to their opinions of Madison.  I think Utrecht is the perfect size for a student, as with 300.000 inhabitants you are afforded a certain amount of anonymity.

The club scene, as I found out later that night, could be improved.  Or, perhaps it’s the willingness of Dutch students to dance that could be improved upon.  Charlotte took me to Havana, where the music was excellent to dance to (house, merengue, top 40, etc.) and the coconut beer was delicious, but for some reason the people preferred to stand around, sip their drinks, and attempt to hold conversations over the heart-thumping bass than to feel the beat and move with it.  Totally incomprehensible, but Charlotte and I rocked out nonetheless.  I was even so bold as to steal a guy from (presumably) his girlfriend for one short merengue after I noticed he could actually dance.  Tisk, tisk, American girl…

Yes, well, my time in Holland came to a close this morning, as Charlotte and I boarded separate trains and went on our merry ways.  I was happy for the chance to see Charlotte again, and was grateful for another relaxing (and delicious) vacation.