Posts Tagged ‘the Netherlands


House MD

Since I’ve been watching House MD recently like it’s going out of fashion, I think my brain may have gone into analytical overdrive. Today whilst cycling home in the rain (go Netherlands!) I realised that I caused quite an interesting traffic situation – I hindered the progress of a car that was travelling in front of me. ‘What?’ I hear you ask, ‘How can that be? You were behind the car, and you were hindering its progress?’ Sounding like a House episode yet?

It immediately also occurred to me that I should blog about this, ergo this post. That realisation was accompanied by the fact that I would probably need a diagram to explain exactly what happened (they do that on House too). However, since I’ve determined that I’m significantly underperforming in my professional life, I thought my brain could use the challenge of trying to explain it without the use of a diagram (ergo the lack of diagram). But if you all agree to concentrate and do your best, then I’m sure this post will be a challenge, and hence beneficial, to all of us. Ready? Here we go…

Cycling as happily as I could in the rain behind car A (on the right side of the road – this is Europe), we approached a 4-way intersection. Then car A stopped, half of it having crossed the intersection, and the back half still sticking back into the intersection, half-blocking the road. I had stopped behind it, and was therefore standing in the middle of the intersection, blocking the transverse street. So far so good.

But why had car A stopped? Well, there were parked cars on the other side of the intersection, which car A needed to move to the left to avoid. Unfortunately, oncoming car B was on the left-hand side of the road and not moving, so car A could not advance.

Which brings us to why oncoming car B had stopped. Well, it was stuck behind oncoming car C, which had waited for car A to pass before it could make a left-hand turn into the transverse street. But of course it could not do the turn that it had planned to make, because, yes siree, I was now blocking the intersection! And since car A in front of me couldn’t advance because of car B, and car B was stuck because of car C, and car C was stuck because of me, we had a very nice little paradox on our hands for a moment there.

So what happened? Well, I enjoyed the paradox for a while, and then did what all cyclists in the Netherlands do in a tricky situation – I dematerialised in a puff of smoke. Oh no wait, cyclists aren’t actually that expendable, everyone just thinks they are. No, I just moved over a bit and let car C pass, then everything was hunky-dory.

For a moment though, the complaining, I-know-my-rights Dutch part of me did consider getting out my mobile and calling the Queen, to tell her that the government needed to completely rewrite the urban planning regulations because they shouldn’t allow paradoxes. But the really pragmatic Dutch part of me said that that would be such a laborious process and I’d be standing in the rain too long, and I would get home faster if I just moved over.



Recently I was sitting at an outside table at a drinking establishment, and I felt like ordering a Martini cocktail. So I asked the waitress if they had the appropriate triangle-shaped glasses, and her response was, “Hmm, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them here. But we don’t serve cocktails outside anyway, because then the bar would be too busy.” At this point I couldn’t decide what to be more angry about:

a) The fact that the waitress didn’t even know whether they had the glasses;
b) The fact that (in all probability) the bar didn’t have the glasses;
c) The fact that I wasn’t allowed to order a cocktail outside;
d) The reason that cocktails weren’t allowed outside was because the bar would get too busy (from this I surmised that she meant that it would take the staff too long to make the drinks, meaning that i) they would then sell less drinks, resulting in less turnover or ii) the bar staff are just too lazy), or
e) The fact that she dared tell me this reason to my face and expect me not to be furious.

I hate am constantly frustrated by hospitality in the Netherlands.


Forays into Dutch poetry

Whilst in Berlin last week, D. introduced me to a 4000-verse Dutch poem called “May”, by romantic poet Herman Gorter. Upon the subsequent discovery that there is as yet no English translation of this poem, I promptly set about creating one, and yesterday I managed to complete a draft of the first verse:

A new spring, and a new sound fills the air;
I would my song to whistling could compare
That oft I heard on the canals at night
In summer, in an old town, when the light
Inside the house was gone; The quiet street
Was gath’ring dusk. The evening sky, replete,
Would cast its light across facades until
Its golden shine fell on my window-sill.
And then a young boy, like an organ pipe,
Would fill the air with notes that shook as ripe
As youngling cherries in the woods in spring,
When winds pick up and go a-journeying.
O’er bridges and at water’s edge he drifted,
And whistling all the while, spirits lifted,
Like a young bird, content and unaware
Of its own gladness at the evening air.
Tired souls at table listened as they smiled,
As to a story first heard as a child,
And hands at window-shutters, at a snatch
Of the boy’s tune, would pause before the latch.

For Dutch speakers who don’t know (or have) the poem, here’s the original:

Een nieuwe lente en een nieuw geluid:
Ik wil dat dit lied klinkt als het gefluit,
Dat ik vaak hoorde voor een zomernacht,
In een oud stadje, langs de watergracht —
In huis was ‘t donker, maar de stille straat
Vergaarde schemer, aan de lucht blonk laat
Nog licht, er viel een gouden blanke schijn
Over de gevels in mijn raamkozijn.
Dan blies een jongen als een orgelpijp,
De klanken schudden in de lucht zoo rijp
Als jonge kersen, wen een lentewind
In ‘t boschje opgaat en zijn reis begint.
Hij dwaald’ over de bruggen, op den wal
Van ‘t water, langzaam gaande, overal
Als ‘n jonge vogel fluitend, onbewust
Van eigen blijheid om de avondrust.
En menig moe man, die zijn avondmaal
Nam, luisterde, als naar een oud verhaal,
Glimlachend, en een hand die ‘t venster sloot,
Talmde een pooze wijl de jongen floot.

Criticism (constructive or otherwise) is more than welcome!


Bike betrayal

Today I was reading Ikzalwelgekzijn, the blog of my good friend M., and I simply couldn’t resist translating this post so that non-Dutch-speakers could enjoy it too. Here it is:


My bike spent all of last month slowly but surely folding up its back wheel, and the last couple of days even included a measure of joyful tail-wagging. This morning I decided that this could go on no longer, that my fifteen-year-long-unstolen bike and I needed to part ways when I returned from my cornetto lesson. I planned to continue riding it while searching for a successor (because I’m that insensitive), and then trade it in. Possibly even for money.

But my bike is no fool, and immediately spat out a spoke once I got to the station – which then refused to let itself be dislodged, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

This made the search a great deal less complicated: my new bicycle was waiting for me in the nearest shop (a bicycle parking shed). And indeed, there was, among the enormous quantity of new and fixed-up bicycles, exactly one that I wanted. Albeit for half what I wanted to pay, but insensitivity has its price.

The men from the bike shed even wanted to lower the seat for me, replace a nut, transfer my lock and recycle my old bike. The new one rides like a dream, speeds up and brakes and rings and the stand even works. And to top it all off, I found out when returning home from singing and drinking that the light works. Wait: That The Light Works. And suddenly I realised what a terrible burden it had been, using those little lights all the time, however much genius had gone into their design.

With retroactive effect, I hereby take leave without regret from my rattletrap, the jalopy, that thing that I always carelessly parked in the slums outside the station. My Bike Light Works! Well, for now, anyway.


Familiar Dutch bicycle friends

I was in town last week having lunch with A., and you’ll never guess who cycled by:

Cycling brass band

That’s right, it’s the mobile cycling brass band! And after they paused to play the William Tell Overture at a pub around the corner, they came back the other way:

Brass band again

They actually sounded really good. I hope they keep this up all summer!


And you thought Dutch food was boring…


I wonder: are these the ground scales or the claws? In any case, according to the label, the contents of the bottle have “a sweet, anise-like flavour” and taste “delicious in cream sauces or over meat.” Who’d have thunk?


Even more Dutch bicycle action

In response to Stars’ reaction to the previous Dutch Bicycle Action post (and also due to the fact that I was bored this afternoon), today I decided to cycle around Utrecht looking for more examples of bizarre/interesting/noteworthy bicycle activity. I walked out of my front door and was immediately confronted with this:

Third Wheel

I have no idea what’s going on there, but this certainly gives new meaning to the term “third wheel”. Then I jumped on my own bike (the one behind) and started cycling around my neighbourhood. The next thing I noticed was these two identical bikes, nicely snuggled up against each other:

Lover bikes

Ain’t that sweet? And despite what you’d think, it’s actually not that common to see two bikes of the same brand and colour locked up together like that. Which is why I was extra surprised to find these:Twins

What are the odds? Or maybe it’s not that uncommon after all. Still, I think it’s cute. Cycling further, I chanced upon the following scene:

circus act

Sorry it’s so small and out of focus, but I had to act pretty fast to get this shot. It’s one girl riding a normal bike, with another standing up behind her on the rear baggage rack. Oh, and notice which direction that car in the background is driving in. Now I know that Dutch readers will be thinking “Come on, it’s just a couple of girls being silly”, but trust me, in Australia this would be a circus act.

I then headed into the centre of town to try to find some real hardcore bicycle action. I wasn’t disappointed:

Don\'t jump

This photo illustrates a) why the canals need to be trawled regularly for garbage, and b) why it is strongly recommended in the Netherlands to use two bike locks.