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Where to go in Holland besides Amsterdam

There’s more to Holland than Amsterdam. In fact, the many colours of the Orange country never fail to surprise

brunch Updated: Jan 28, 2017 19:59 IST
The rural charm of Kinderdijk is best enjoyed while walking(Saubhadra Chatterji)

How on earth would I know that a windmill is not just a windmill? “It’s my home, too,” smiles the seven foot-something miller. He shows me the kitchen and the bunk beds. His living room is complete with lace-curtained windows, and there’s an aircraft loo-sized toilet.

All under one coned roof

These Dutch windmills only draw water to keep the land dry. Over the years, motorised dykes and pumps have taken over their job, leaving these beauties as a symbol of the country that lies mostly below sea-level.

I’m at Kinderdijk. This sweeping grassland with 19 mills (aged more than 200 years) oozes the rural charm of Netherlands. Sudden showers had forced me to stay put in this mill-house. Now the rains are over. I am thinking what my wife will do if I go out in this muddy pastoral land wearing new shoes. “Try this,” the miller opens his shoe rack and offers me 18th century Crocs – a pair of wooden clogs.

Kleyweg’s Stads Koffyhuis offers great food and nice views of the city. ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

Food, glorious food

An hour later, the waterbus returns near a promenade that overlooks a series of strange buildings. “We, in Rotterdam, call this place the Manhattan of Holland,” a co-passenger quips.Manhattan? Forget an island full of high-rises, this place might not possess even 10 buildings soaring above 15 floors.

Whatever it is, the second largest city in Netherlands is a Disneyland of architecture. One building is tilted at the same angle as the Tower of Pisa (Its architect, obviously, is an Italian). The Central station resembles an arrow. A building looks like a sharpened pencil, and the row of cube houses makes me wonder how people can live there. They’re like tossed dice. Inside, they’re funky with roofs almost falling on the head!

The Erasmus bridge and the Rotterdam skyline ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

Then there is Markthal: An arch-shaped building full of residential flats with the city’s best food market on the ground floor. Passing by Moroccan spices, risotto and lots of cheese, I stop for roasted pork belly. The Serb shopkeeper doesn’t know any other language. I smile ear-to-ear, assuring the burly man behind the counter that language should never come in the way of good food. He prepares two lip-smacking dishes. I wash them down with a home-made digestif.

I am often accused of spending more time in food markets than at art galleries. After hopping three stalls, I am through with lunch. But I still go around, soaking in the smell and colours of this food culture (and the sprawling wine store in the basement). My wife drags me to the exit gate, “Hurry up, we are getting late for the maritime museum.”

The arrow shape of the Central station indicates the progress of Rotterdam ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

Village? museum? whatever?

At the museum ticket counter, the Indonesian-origin woman suddenly becomes interested in India. “I would love to go there,” she declares in a flow of conversation. Towards the end, she says, “Sorry, the museum is closed.” Heartbroken, my wife comes out only to find that from the left pavement there’s an excellent view of the old ships. For free.

If Rotterdam is a marvel of modern times, the open-air museums – and Netherlands has quite a few of them – are prizes from the past. The yellow and blue train stops at Enkhuizen. The picturesque small station looks as though it’s straight from a Yash Chopra movie set. On its left, hundreds of white boats and yachts float leisurely in a canal under the soft, winter sun.

The Markthal in Rotterdam has sumptuous food and awesome graffiti ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

I ride a ferry for the open air museum of Zuiderzee, the showcase of 19th century traditional Dutch life. It was a fishing village before a part of the sea was blocked to reclaim land. People still masquerade as villagers. They repair torn sails, stitch fishing nets or simply slice logs as a feast for tourists’ eyes.

It’s better to share one dish between two people ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

After strolling almost every lane and saying “goedemorgen” to all ‘villagers’, I reach a narrow canal. There’s a fisherman with an old black box and heaps of sawdust, selling smoked fish. “Herring or salmon?” he asks. I betray the local pro-Herring sentiments and opt for salmon. Five minutes later, he opens his box and, from a haze of smoke, brings out what is probably the best smoked salmon of my life. And it’s just three euros.

At BE41 BnB in Maastricht, my host kept the Dutch version of Malgudi Days in my room ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

Going Dutch

Netherlands, smaller than Haryana, has a superb train service. I am in the silent zone of a double decker train from Rotterdam as it whizzes past pretty villages. After 20 minutes, I step out at a small station.Leaving behind barricades, trucks and the cement piles of a construction site, I take a left turn and enter a different world altogether. The small town of Delft is a picture postcard. It’s a prettier version of Amsterdam. No wonder that Dutch royalty is buried here.

The market square of the charming Delft ( Saubhadra Chatterji )

It’s a Mondaymorning. The historic main square has only a few visitors. Nearby, there are canals, rows of quaint houses and leafy neighbourhoods, creating a surreal urban space. I cross a few flower-decked bridges to find Kleyweg’s Stads Koffyhuis. An old barge is the outdoor extension of the café. Inside, lots of trophies are displayed on the top of the main counter. This café has been a champion in food competitions around Netherlands.It’s not just a breakfast for me. It’s a part of being in this life, slowly but happily, almost like those boats in the mossy canals.

From the glitzy Rotterdam to peaceful Delft, from the old villages to the timeless windmills, two things are common. First, the way these gritty people have built their country. As they say here, “God created the earth but the Dutch created Holland.”And secondly, wherever I see a cheese shop, I invariably enter to ask: “What’s the age of your oldest one?”

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From HT Brunch, January 29,2017

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First Published: Jan 28, 2017 19:59 IST