I always had a soft spot for The Netherlands.  Little did I know, by a twist of fate, I would begin 2011 with a new life in Holland.  And so I created this blog to share with the world my day-to-day discovery of all things Dutch.

I have since returned to the US after 13 years of living abroad (3 years in Africa, 7 in Europe, and 3 in Canada). I started a new blog, Home Strange Home, in which I blog about the ups and downs of my re-acculturation experience.

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Good-Bye, Don’t Cry

Today is a very sad day. It’s my last day living in the Netherlands. I know I’ve been going away and coming back a lot, but this time it’s for good. Please don’t cry!

It has been such a pleasure for me to have this experience of living in Holland and to share it with you through this blog on a daily basis. In the end, I spent only five months in the country, but it’s a time in my life that I’ll always look back on fondly.

I’ve accepted a two-year employment contract in Liberia, West Africa and I’m moving there tomorrow. Once I’m settled in to my new home, I’ll be writing about life in this fascinating new country in my new blog, Liberiana. I hope to see you there!

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Chocolate Letters

Chocolate letters on sale at HEMA.

Chocolate letters on sale at HEMA.

While other countries are preparing for the approach of the Christmas season, Holland can enjoy a shorter wait for the Sinterklaas Season. In mid-November, Saint Nicholas (the basis for the North American figure Santa Claus) will arrive in the Netherlands by steamboat from Spain.

On Saint Nicholas’ eve (December 5th), children (and adults) receive as a gift the first letter of their first name in the form of a chocolate letter (be it dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate). Apparently the industrial manufacturers of these chocolate letters have taken great care to adjust the thickness and shape of the letters such that each letter contains the same amount of chocolate. Otherwise it would suck for the people whose names start with I instead of H.

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Bike, Bus, Train, Plane, Aeroplane

De Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways).

De Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways).

Despite the moaning of many Dutch people (many of whom haven’t experienced the joy of engineering works on the London Underground), I find public transport in the Netherlands to be of an excellent standard. As someone who doesn’t like the cost, hassle, or environmental impact of cars, this suits me perfectly.

I’ve already blooged about the widespread use of the bicycle (rather than the car) as a primary mode of transport. But even if you don’t have a bicycle, it’s really easy to get around almost anywhere in Holland.

Practically every town and village, no matter how small, has a train station. The trains are more reliable and punctual than any other service I’ve used in the US, UK, or France. Again, the Dutch are always complaining about NS train service, but I can only attribute this to the fact that they aren’t comparing it to services like National Rail or Metro North.

Utrecht has a fairly extensive bus network which covers both the greater city area and provides services to neighbouring towns. Even when I’ve wanted to visit places in rural areas, such as the Kröller Müller Museum in the Hoge Veluwe National Park, I was able to get there by train and bus. I’m sure the small size and high population density of the Netherlands makes such an extensive public transport network possible.

In my old office in Maarssen, I used to look out the window to a view of the train station. The railway tracks ran along a large canal, which was essentially a road for boats, with many large cargo boats speeding by. Along the other side of the tracks ran a road, along which there was of course a designated cycle path and a bus station. So, from that one window on a busy day, I could see trains, boats, bicycles, cars, and buses all going past at once. And maybe a plane flying overhead.

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Stolen Bikes



I think every single Dutch person has a story about how their bike was stolen. Or every person who has ever owned a bicycle in Holland for that matter. I have the distinction of having “my” bicycle stolen before I’d ever used it – my husband, in anticipation of my imminent move to Holland, purchased a bike for me. It was gone before I’d even arrived.

Amsterdam is known as the bike-theft capital of the world. People joke that if you want to buy a cheap bike, all you have to do is go to the Amsterdam Centraal station and buy one for €20 from a desperate junkie muttering “Fiets kopen?” (“Buy a bike?”). Of course, that only encourages theft, and you also risk getting a fine.

There is no escaping it. I know people who locked up their new bikes with multiple locks (including the solid U-shaped locks) and still had them stolen. And not only new bikes are stolen, but also old bikes (“my” bike was an inexpensive second-hand one… but not from a junkie). One novel strategy people take is to decorate their bike in garish colours to make it more conspicuous, thereby supposedly reducing the likelihood of it being stolen. Good luck…

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Field Hockey

Don't mess with us.

Don't mess with us.

In many European countries, it’s popular for men to set up local football leagues with their co-workers, peers, and/or neighbours and play regular matches in the evenings and on the weekends.

In Holland, I’ve noticed that it’s often the women who are setting up these clubs, and they are for field hockey, not football.

One of my good Dutch friends has always kept up her regular hockey playing, even through two pregnancies and the pursuit of a successful career. Meanwhile, on a professional level, the Dutch women’s field hockey team has won the Hockey World Cup 6 times, more than any other team in history, and are the reigning Olympic champions. Perhaps kicking ass in field hockey is just another manifestation of the strong Dutch woman.

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Red Light Boats

Floating red light district.

The red light district walks on water.

I previously blogged about our local red light district in Utrecht, conveniently located next to the supermarket where we do our regular shopping. Well, it turns out there is another red light district in Utrecht, and this one is… on boats.

Canals + prostitutes + houseboats – how much more Dutch could you possibly get?

The Zandpad is Utrecht’s floating red light district. Forty-three houseboats, which are licensed brothels, float on the Vecht river and are moored to a long dock.  About 900 prostitutes work the 143 “work stations,” the red-curtained windows.

Their prospective clients drive past in cars on Zandpad Street (zandpad means “sand path,” but the sand was long ago replaced by tarmac). Here’s a video of what it’s like.

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