Saturday, April 16, 2011

Among friends

DSC_0095I enjoyed a rare visit from friends in the US this week, passing through the Netherlands on their way to visit their daughter studying abroad for a semester.  The arrangements came together at the last minute, as these things often do, so it was a quick toss to match events with interests and to plan a few outings, weather permitting.  Fortunately, their interest was in seeing everyday life in the Netherlands, my specialty.

It was a really good visit: we laughed about whether the three-day rule applies to friends who’ve known each other for years as their children grew up together (and it doesn’t).  We enjoyed a few days exploring Amsterdam and visiting the Keukenhof, then a couple in Maastricht enjoying the café’s and the countryside.

‘A few discoveries in hindsight.

The focus on ‘everyday life’:  I don’t know history as well as I should, so there are (too many) carved lentils who’s symbolism (indeed, whose existence) goes past me.  I’m also rubbish at explaining how sin works – I know where the girls and pot are kept but no clue as to how it all works.DSC_0134  But I am a killer in shops (esp. Blokkers and the chocolatier), on transport (where to sit on trains and how to work the trams), and over menu’s (embracing zuurvlees and avoiding haring).

Mingling with the locals:  I inoculated them against Dutch manners early, so when the tram-clerk yelled that they were swiping the card wrong, standing in the wrong space, leaving through the wrong door (all in three minutes: this was a new low for tram-clerks), they could laugh about it later (mostly).   On the plus side, a visit with my Dutch friends was appreciated on both sides: it’s fascinating to (later) have the dual discussions of how each has heard the other.

Adopting the British style:  The UK school of hostelry recommends that everyone be treated like family rather than guests, so fill the fridge, make up the beds, and exchange keys. This works well on many levels, providing room for enjoying both the cultural differences and one’s familiar routines whilst t’huis.  I appreciated the time to make calls and they really didn’t need to be escorted everywhere.  One (unexpectedly) nice thing is that DSC_0209they found bits of local color that I missed (jazz next door on Thursdays) that turned out to be great (don’t ask how I overlooked music next door).

My favorite places are pretty cool. An lunch outing to Muiden, a bike ride along the Albert Canal, dinner in Haesje Claes, pointing out Random Road Art, slurping Luna Rosa, were nice experiences to share. They tended to be uncrowded, have a local flavor, and are pretty authentic (and I really enjoy visiting them).  And the adventures (exploding bicycle tires, developing instincts for crossing the street in one piece, shopkeepers who hoard apples, and one too many refurbished cathedrals) will be fodder for many single-malt’s to come.

Taking our time:  I let go of the usual timed-to-the-minute schedules and let the days unfold – it took a lot of pressure off everyone and we all had a vacation.  It was much better to spontaneously stop in a café, share a biertje, or watch boats go up and down in the locks than to worry about castle openings and museum closings.  The GVB card in Amsterdam, and rental bicycles (each around 7 euro per day) give a DSC03777lot of freedom and spontaneity.  And restaurants are made for lingering: the traditional 3-hour dinner on a warm evening is a perfect way to end the day.

I felt bad when I dropped them off at the Koln airport and it was all over: the apartment feels empty and quiet and work is waiting.  I suppose that’s the measure, though: whether we all felt the time was too short for everything we would have wanted to do (fondant and a wafel next time, I promise).

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