things are lekker in the Netherlands Posted on January 25th, 2011 by

This is my sixth day in Holland. I arrived in the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam at 1030 a.m. in a daze. It felt really strange to be in a foreign country on my own. I immediately got harrassed by some military police for straying too far from my bags. I felt so foolish staring blankly at him as he spoke to me in Dutch, but when I told him I only spoke English, he quickly translated that I’d better keep a closer eye on my bags.

After Dirk picked me up, it was an hour drive to his town, Eindhoven. Immediately, we stopped at an authentic Dutch coffeeshop in order to experience one of the most famous things about Holland: legal marijuana. I wanted to take a picture but taking a picture in that coffeeshop would have been like walking into an American bar in the early afternoon and snapping a photo of the clientele. It was surprisingly dark and had that super distinctive smell of marijuana that reminds me of Trampled by Turtles concerts and the Winnipeg Folk Festival. We sat in a booth and chatted with another customer…in English! I love that everyone is fluent in English here. Despite its rampant use, marijuana is illegal in the Netherlands. The Dutch government supports a policy of non-enforcement, believing that police resources would better be spent on bigger problems than soft drug use.

A main difference between the United States government and the Netherlands government is this regulation of problems we tend to ignore.  Prostitution is likewise legal here and contained in small red light districts. There are two in Eindhoven: one of street hookers and one of window hookers. We visited the windowed district this evening. It resembled the courtyard of two story motel, with big picture windows on the bottom floor and private rooms upstairs. The women inside gave me strange looks from their seductively decorated rooms: lots of red carpets, plush pink couches, and even televisions. They wore lingerie buy didn’t really look like prostitutes: they were young and healthy and beautiful and even classy. The neigborhood surrounding the red light district is pretty ghetto but still inhabited by a lot of families. Dirk said that before the red light district was opened, the prostitution took place in houses tucked between the family homes. Accepting and regulating bad habits is a common Dutch trick to control societal problems.

The red light distric in Eindhoven, courtesy of Google Maps.

Another example is their driving system. Driving is, of course, legal here but highly discouraged. The roads are tiny, winding and often cobblestone. It’s difficult to drive more than 15 or 20 mph within smaller neighborhoods. Each car must undergo a test by a government-approved garage for quality within the first three years of ownership and every year thereafter, and the owner must pay for any repairs found necessary. Car taxes are on a sliding scale based on what your vehicle is used for, what kind of fuel it runs on, and its mass. My boyfriend got his annual bill for his 1989 Volkswagen yesterday and it was €400, or about $550. Combining all these factors and adding a top notch public transportation system to the mix, very few people own cars. Bikes, buses, trams, walking, and mopeds are much more popular and the bike trails here are fantastic.

SO! Here’s some photos of my trip thus far:

A beautiful old church in Eindhoven on the only sunny day of my trip thus far. This church has seen more world history than the entire United States. It is in the middle of the city center and felt like my first real piece of European history.

Zutphen is the town in which Dirk grew up. It looks ancient and is! It's been some sort of village since before the 900s, and became officially recognized as a city around 1100. It was surreal to touch bricks that have been there for a thousand years.

We saw a lot of these tree fences in Zutphen! Maybe not an extremely effective fence but they look really cool.

Minnesotans love Lake Superior herring. It's delicious especially when deep fried. If you ever considered trying it raw, DON'T. It's a common Dutch meal, and Dirk hadn't tried it in years either. So, we tasted the raw fish (dipped in raw onions) in the middle of the market and endured ridicule from surrounding old men because of our disgusted reactions.


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