The other day I walked through Leiden, the town I live in, and tried to look at my surroundings from a different perspective. I noticed the many plaques that adorn all sorts of old buildings and tell its history. Here are some of the things I saw:
As you can see, the two red keys are a recurring theme. This is because the coat of arms of Leiden depicts two red keys, crossed in an X-shape on a white background. These keys are a reference to St.Peter, who guards the entry way to heaven and after whom a large church in the city center is named. Because of this coat of arms, Leiden is referred to as the “Sleutelstad” (“the key city”).
Just to get things out of the way and clear, I suggest you watch this little video first.
We Dutchies have become very accustomed to calling our country Holland. It is easier and faster to pronounce than the Netherlands and even though some die-hard people who live outside of the provinces North and South Holland may sometimes object, when our national football team plays, we all chant “Holland! Holland!” and never “Nederland! Nederland!”.
Anyway, my home country is very small. It is about half the size of the state of Maine (or half the size of the British mainland) and barely visible on most world maps and globes I’ve seen. It is quite densely populated but we still manage to grow a lot of our own food. Our land provides us with enough vegetables that we can even export a great deal and recently our milk has come in even higher demand than it already was (especially since the 2008 Chinese milk scandal) so we need some meadows for our champion cow to stomp around in as well.
So, our cities are pretty crammed and our houses are not very big (especially compared to U.S. standards) and you can imagine we have very little space left for nature to just be… actually I’m not sure if we have any of that at all. We are a well organized people and we expect our flora and fauna to be the same. Trees may grow, but not mess with our side walks. Water may flow, but only where and how we instruct it to (doesn’t always work). We have hares, rabbits and other undergrond critters sign contracts making them promise to not mess up our dykes.
All though we don’t have any real wilderness, we do have rural areas. Our most urban areas are in North and South Holland, as explained in the video above, but even there we do have some open spots. This area, in the middle of our nation, is usually referred to as the Green Heart.
It is an area where the inhabitants of our biggest cities as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague can escape to, to breathe in some fresh air, ride a bike, sail a boat, sniff a tulip, spot a bird… You know, the stuff we Dutchies like to do…
The green heart is special. It feels like the countryside, all though you can always see some big city’s skyline on the horizon. You can see swans, geese and ducks flying by almost as often as planes on their way to Schiphol airport. At night, you can’t see the stars, because of the many greenhouses and big towns around.
The farmers in the green heart are often of the intellectual type, compared to the ones in the real countryside. They are the ones that experiment with new potato species and experimental cowfeeding machines. They often have some business on the side, and provide tours for tourists that rush through our country in one or two days.
The green heart is also mentioned in most political parties’ programs. On the one side there are the parties that want to conserve and protect the area and fight against further expansion of houses and businesses into the green heart. On the other side the green heart is seen as an area of opportunies, where modern towns could grow, sustainable energy programs can be set up and our airport can expand into.
The green heart is an extremely compact chunk of Dutchness.
A little more than one week for my departure. What am I going to miss?
I just ate breakfast. I love breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day and I indulge in it as much as I can. We Dutchies like our breads. Good sturdy wholemeal bread with all sorts of toppings. In my opinion, it is one of the things we excel in most (besides watermanagement and creating Doutzen Kroes) and it is most definitely one of the things I am going to miss very much during my travels.
Now, there are some very stereotypical Dutch products, that foreigners have to have tried at least once to understand our palate. Dutch cheeses are sold all around the world and all though I love a piece of good ripe cheese on a piece of fresh baked brown bread, I think I will manage 3 months without it just fine. Same goes for drop (or liquorice). People that haven’t grown up eating drop will never understand how we have ever come to see it as a treat. It is one of our favorite japes, to present foreigners with our drop (especially our salty varieties) and watch their faces twitch and spasm until they spit it out. Come to think of it, maybe I will take some with me and if I remember, I’ll make a video of the faces of my new Ecuadorian friends when they try it. I just hope they will still be my friends afterwards…
Another Dutch product that actually does do very well amongst foreigners, are stroopwafels. They are waffle-cookies with syrup in between. Very simple, very sweet, very much appreciated. Nobody spits these out, unless they have diabetes… I think I might take a couple of packets of these along with me as well (possibly to help people rinse away the drop-taste).
And last but not least I would like to mention appelstroop, which translates to apple syrup. It is one of my favorite things in the world and if I could, I would eat it all day long. It is a product that not all of my fellow countrymen and -women appreciate the way I do, but it is perhaps the thing I will miss most while abroad.
The taste of Appelstroop can best be described as sweet and slightly tart (sourish). It is absolutely delicious on (here we go again) wholegrain bread, possibly in combination with a piece of cheese or bacon. You can also use it to add to the flavor of a good beef-stew.
So… just a little more than a week before my departure. And then three months from now I will write about which Ecuadorian foodstuffs I am going to miss back in Holland.
At this very moment the temperature outside my window is somewhere around zero degrees Celsius. Last week it was stil snowing and freezing quite a bit, but today it’s starting to feel like spring.
A bit more than a month from now, zero degrees will mean something completely different; Zero degrees latitude, that is. It will probably rain quite a bit, but with about 25 degrees Celsius difference it’s not all that bad. It’s hard to imagine how it will all be, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve still got quite a bit to take care of, but I’ll be ready when the time comes.