Heja from Holland

Posted by in Dispatches

Cafe in UtrechtWell, after a cheapo flight (no free drinks or newspapers, unless you were wearing a suit) from Montreal to London, a 90 minute $40 bus ride from Gatwick Airport to Heathrow Airport, a three hour wait at the airport, a one hour flight to Amsterdam and a half hour train ride to Utrecht – we arrived! I celebrated being away from the sterility and discomfort of airports by drinking a large can of Amstel on the train ride from Amsterdam to Utrecht. Before I opened it, I had an apparently very Canadian moment…

I asked the train ticket guy if it was OK if I drank on the train. He looked at me like I had asked him if I was allowed to breathe on the train – “Of course you can drink!” Right, I’m in the Netherlands – the land of tolerance and freedom, yet also conservatism and moderation. As I drank the beer and Svetla napped, I watched the green flatlands go by, divided up by the odd modest road or highway and huge canals that are higher than the train tracks (you see, we’re below sea level everyhwere here) with large barges dutifully tredging along the waterways. Rain drizzled against the window pain and the sky reminded me of Vancouver, the only difference being when you look back down at the horizon, it goes on as far as the eye can see.

Bram picked us up in his car at the trainstation and we were soon at his and Ilke’s bright and cozy apartment here in Utrecht. The city hasn’t changed much since I used to live here – sleepy cobblestoned streets and about ten billion bikes at any given moment. There are so many bikes here, it is unfathomable. According to statistics there are actually 13 million bikes in Holland and 16 million people – that’s a lot of sustainable transporation. Drank some Alfa (organic Belgian) beer, had dinner and went out for apertifs. At an old bar I used to haunt we sat on a terrace, drank black beer and smoked some “super pollen” with dutch tobacco. Svetla had gone next door with Bram and made her first legal purchase from a special cafe. Oh yes, we are behaving like people from a land where weeds are illegal and people drive hummers to compensate for braincells and well, use your imagination.

So, we are off today to explore the progressive, conflicted, moderate, tolerant, xenophobic, liberal land of holland. It is a country where the government picks up your compost, university is free, pot is “legal,” business people ride bikes, and English is the official second language. It’s also the land where anti-immigration racists sit in parliament, the president looks like Harry Potter, and a clear position on Isreal’s disgusting mass-murder in Lebanon cannot be eked out (due to membership in the foreign-policy-waffling EU). Ah, Holland, gotta love it.