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Utrecht, Amsterdam and The Hague

I suppose things fall into a pattern after repeat visits somewhere, especially if they're for durations exceeding a "regular" vacation. Days become an odd amalgamation of leisure, work and personal business, lines I never would have blurred when younger and more vehement. So an Amsterdam museum visit, toilet paper purchase and midnight meeting with a search committee? Why not?

Don't get me wrong, there’s nothing better than the lack of responsibility, expanded horizons and fresh vision that come with a bonafide vacation. But there is a positive side to not having one: I am funding the girl's and my cafe life, can now undo both locks on a bike in way less than a minute, and have nailed differentiating yogurt from cream at the grocery store. It may no longer be fresh eyes I'm seeing through, but I'm half way to getting on the path that leads to the road to being quasi-knowledgeable.

No coherent story this week, instead, some random reports.


A not atypical Dutch bike

Although biking is a huge part of life here in the biking capital of the world, there seems to be little or no bike ego. Almost all are black, exceedingly heavy, bashed up and either have foot brakes or just a few speeds. No one wears gear or helmets, and it all seems to work brilliantly. Natives don’t brake at blind intersections, rather sail through with impressive confidence in their collision avoidance skills. In fact there’s a way, at an intersection of bikes, pedestrians and cars, that everyone seems to weave together in something that really must have been choreographed. Very old women who wear heavy black corrective shoes to help their waddling bow legs can be seen on bikes, sometimes wizzing by with no fear of speed, e-bike or no e-bike. Did you know there are two bikes for every person in the Netherlands? Yet perplexingly, bike stealing of these old junkers is rampant. It’s hard to understand the correlation.


While you'll see a curmudgeonly old man with a weathered face here and there, in general people are happy. There is a sense of relaxation that pervades most interactions I've seen.

  • While Nat and I were banging away at a tennis ball, as hard as we possibly could while sweating and gasping for air, two guys in their early thirties next to us were playfully sailing the ball back and forth, reminding us that it's a game, not an act of exorcism.

  • Last night at 11ish, we were taking the train back from Amsterdam when a hopped-up three year old girl began houding two teenage boys sitting in front of her. Perhaps having younger sisters themselves, they cheerfully went along with her requests for information, chatting her up as an equal, laughing at her jokes. They left the train smiling.

  • While waiting at the train station, a well coiffed mother and sulk-aged teenage girl approached the turnstiles. The girl attempted to get her chip card from her back pocket and instead, dropped cards and cash all over the floor. They both broke out in unrestrained laughter, picking things up together.

  • Where do I sign up to be like that?

People are even happier at the flower market, which falls nicely on Saturday mornings. It has the same energy as an ice cream store in summer; customers excitedly deliberating about which treat to choose.

While bells ring all the time, I haven't seen anyone who actually goes into any of the churches to worship. Despite that, today, Whit Monday, is the second Christian holiday in two weeks. The other of course being Ascension Day. How do people observe Whit Monday? I heard fireworks an hour ago.


A little Dutch kitsch

An obscene amount of peonies


Delicious color combo


Sweet peas with hydrangea in the background.


Zaanse Schans old houses

This is the vibe

In the oldest Albert Heijn, the biggest supermarket chain, in Zaanse Schan

In the weaver's cottage at Zaans Schan

A few Sundays ago when Sandy was still here, the three of us were deliberating about how to spend the day when we came up with a plan to go to Zaanse Schans. Just like the time the girls I and were on the Cape and no one would cop to putting the strawberries in the fridge, none of us owned being the engine that got us there. But go we did, first train, then crowded bus, in the heat with no a/c. I, who claim avoiding Disney World as my most significant maternal accomplishment, was disheartened to see all the families with small, unhappy children, men on cell phones and grandparents heading towards a desination shared with us. The place is visually interesting and a good idea, but we realized it was Mother's Day and lost any desire to forge on. After an hour and some bad fries and soft serve ice cream, we found ourselves sitting on a bench when Sandy and Nat made the brave decision to bail. We couldn't get out of there fast enough, finding our way to a less touristy part of Amsterdam, where we had the most perfect meal, sitting outside and being us again.

Speaking of Amsterdam, if you ever have Amsterdam museums on your To Do list, it's good to know that you can avoid walking through the gauntlet of literal and figurative detritus that surrounds Centraal train station by getting off at Amstel instead. It's a leisurely and scenic walk along houseboats with chickens and bathing in the river, rather than gangs of buzzed British boys out for a spin. I spent a few happy hours at FOAM, a photography museum that currently has an exhibit by Janette Beckman about hip hop and punk musicians as rebels of their times. Different from the Gardner, Facilities people had erected a scaffolding in the main exhibit hall and were busy doing electrical work in the ceiling while we visitors browsed below, weaving in and out of their ladders and platform. I suppose fewer lawyers and insurance companies make decisions simpler here. Along the same lines, at a cafe on a canal where people drink a lot, we were next to tables about 6 inches from the canal edge, no exaggeration. That's some murky, brown water.

What a mom shot. But what a place!

Yesterday Nat and I had the opportunity to play tennis at a 120-year old club in Vondelpark called Festina. A thatched roof on the clubhouse and 9 or so beautifully maintained red clay courts, well-loved flower beds with the alluring sound of bongo drums and smell of weed in the background. We checked in with the Secretariat, got on a court and started hitting. After about 10 minutes, the sprinklers turned on, wetting us, our stuff and the court. We moved. I guess that's just the way things work there. 10 year waiting list to join.


On the advice of an instragram post, we wandered to The Hague for a visit to a book and antique market, held in a tree-lined town square. There we saw a wooden statue of a bull dog, a World War II helmet, Buddhas with long ears, hat moulds, many many maps and silver utensils, illustrations of weapons and smoking equipment and awkward oil painted seascapes. It was like a dream providing compelling and random things to entertain. Interesting as it was, the market was no match for our hand-pulled noodle lunch at Xi'an Foods, the deliciousness of which I will remember for a long time. They were chewy and starchy and really quite perfect, served with slivered vegetables and chili hot oil.

Alley in the Hague, typical of the vibe there

The seat of the EU, The Hague is only an hour from Amsterdam on the train, but feels much more French or Belgian, with bigger, more regal buildings. It seems better equipped to hold current day tourists like us, with plenty of large piazzas, yet also has the feel of somewhere where serious and intelligent people work in suits on important matters, giving us the message that the city is not really for tourists.

Time to get serious and put my suit on.


Hetty Friedman
Hetty Friedman

Weaver's cottage! I want it all. xxx

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