I recently made a quick visit home. That home is in a tiny little country in western Europe: The Netherlands. More specifically, home is in that part of this tiny little country that's actually below sea level, also called Holland. Even if you have never heard of this country, you probably recognize it when you see this...
It's a very flat countryside in Holland. There are no mountains and to say that there are any hills is an overstatement. In fact, my son complained that when he was there last year he couldn't really get a workout while running or biking. It's along this particular lanscape that I biked to high school: 15 kilometers to and 15 kilometers from! Weather or no weather; rain, hail, heavy winds included. And believe me: I didn't think it was a breeze.
My high school was in the idyllic little town of Oud-Beijerland. Most students came from villages scattered around by bike and I cannot even begin to tell you about the bike-related pranks such as smearing glue on the seats or...well, let me not go into much detail. Besides, of course, diligently attending classes and so forth, students occasionally snuck out to the village center for a snack (think frietjes - fries -with mayonnaise) or a drink (starts with a "B" but I won't go into that either because that was and is a big no no) or just to hang out at the harbor.
Market day, every Wednesday, was and is especially fun. A variety of products, from bike parts, drop (licorice), fruits and vegetables, fish and meats, flowers, clothing, household wares to...ultimately cheese. My country just wouldn't be the same without its large offerings of cheese.
Lots of bricks in The Netherlands: brick walls, brick houses, brick streets. I stumbled upon a very ingenious way to pave a street in my neigborhood with bricks. I was so enthralled that I followed the progress for a few days (off and on).
Dutch people love biking. And if they're not biking, they're hiking. Not once a week, not twice, but practically every day. And they enjoy it
Recently in Holland parts of the country are "given back" to nature and reclaimed by water, creating a beautiful countryside with polders, dijken (dikes), water, land, water, and more water.
The small village I'm from is Maasdam. It's surrounded by water and in the summer we'd go windsurfing, sailing, canoeing or swimming. And if we were lucky, in the winter we could ice skate to the elementary school. The school was along this little waterway. Sometimes on hot days, little boys would strip to their underwear and jump in the water straight after school.
There's a lot of agriculture in Holland. Think sugar beets, beans, cabbage, potatoes and the by young children much disliked brussels sprouts. I have to admit that I am very thankful that as the years went by many different preparation methods have been developed, all better than the plain (over) boiled or steamed small green rascals.
A large part of agriculture involves cows. Dutch people like, no, love milk and karnemelk (buttermilk). But actually, there are many sheep to be found too. I want to say that they're mainly around to keep the grass cut and to fertilize the land. But I'm not certain about that.
Soccer may be a huge national sport and certainly is engrained and intertwined with the Dutch (I probably knew how to sing soccer songs before I could say a coherent sentence) but field hockey takes a prominent place. It's not just popular with girls and boys but also with adult men and women. I always make it a point when I visit the country to go watch a game or two when one of my nieces or nephews plays. They play amazingly well: the skills, energy, speed and dedication are unbelievable. My brothers and sister all coached at one time or another. Here's my youngest brother addressing his team during halftime, while they're enjoying a healthy snack of apples. A little tidbit, and I'm not saying I agree, but Dutch people frown upon volunteer coaches dressed in sweats during practices or games.
Speaking of apples: Dutch people eat healthy (well, when they're not enjoying their "friet met mayonaise"). Home cooked meals rule. And sit-down family dinners are required. The latter applies to breakfast as well. My sister still makes her children get up early (even on weekends or no-school days) to have breakfast together. She sets the table for breakfast the night before! It may have changed a little, but when I grew up, there was one ingredient that was always present on the plate: the good old white potato!
I started this blog with the windmill. I want to finish with something that Holland is truly known for and can be found in abundance on each street corner, shopping center or marketplace. Something that costs practically nothing. Something that is a required part of the shopping list and finds its way in every single Dutch home.
More photos of Holland here: http://marleenvandenneste.smugmug.com/Places/Binnenmaas/45005909_JmP4C8