Tourist in Holland

TOURISTS enamored of quaintness and traditionalism can, without trying too hard, leave Holland with the happy impression that the country looks just the way they had hoped it would look. The tulip fields in bloom (assuming it is spring); the 1700 windmills; the peasants in wooden clogs; the half-dozen villages where the old local costume is still worn; the sixteenth and seventeenth century houses with stepped gables; Amsterdam’s network of elm-lined canals spanned by four hundred bridges — all this conforms pretty closely to the image of Holland created by Dutch painting and folklore and the admirable brochures of the Netherlands Tourist Association. You see meadows as painted by Hobbema against a Ruysdael sky; and interiors pleasantly reminiscent of those immortalized by Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch.

This tourist’s-eye view of Holland is somewhat deceptive. My Dutch friends took pains to show me another aspect of their country — the huge constellation of brand-new apartment houses on the outskirts of Amsterdam; the streamlined commercial buildings in Rotterdam, in one of which automobiles can drive up a ramp to every floor; the gigantic electrical works of the Philips Company at Eindhoven. The truth is that the Dutch, while they unquestionably have deep and far-reaching attachment to tradition, are also a forwardlooking people, in many ways more sympathetic to modernity than, say, the English or the French.

A stroller through the streets of any major Dutch town will come upon innumerable antique shops, but he will notice almost as many shops selling vacuum cleaners and electrical equipment. The Dutch telephone system, with its automatic dial for long-distance calls, is one of the most efficient in Europe.

Family life

The Italian, it has been said, is a man who lives in the streets and the Frenchman a man who lives in the café. The Dutchman, it might be said, lives in a cluttered parlor, surrounded by his family, which is usually a large one.

The abundance of children — and, too, the fact that the Dutch do not seem to require large doses of entertainment— means that the typical Dutch couple spends the greater part of its leisure in the home. “It is the Dutch,” some humorist has observed, “who invented private life.” (It’s worth mentioning, parenthetically, that they also invented a game which has become one of the greatest disrupters of private life, namely kolf.)

My first impression, on arriving in Amsterdam, was that practically everyone owned a bicycle and carried a brief case — and I wasn’t far wrong. More than half of the families in Holland do own bicycles. One sees aged nuns and tiny children riding them; and Fodor’s guidebook, Benelux, which I found the most useful guide to Holland, reports that even blind men in the Netherlands get around on bicycles, led by their Seeing Eye dogs. As for brief cases — the professional classes carry them for the conventional reasons, and most workingclass people use them as a container for their lunchtime sandwiches.

To tote a brief case is considered deftig, which is one of the Hollander’s two favorite adjectives; the other is gezellig. The former connotes dignity, propriety, respectability; the latter connotes coziness, a decorous sort of fun.

Deftige gezelligheid

The cafeterias in Amsterdam have uniformed doormen, and even in second-class hotels breakfast is served by a waiter in white tie and tails. This is deftig. At a wedding banquet, I saw the father of the bride read a long, obviously carefully prepared oration. This was deftig; and judging from the occasional polite laughter it was also mildly gezellig. The general concern for propriety has caused Dutch life to be governed by rigid laws of etiquette. For example, the sales clerk in a shop, however busy, invariably sees a customer to the door before attending to the next one.

The Dutch pursuit of deftige gezelligheid appears to be eminently hygienic for both the body and the intellect. The Dutch have the world’s longest life expectancy; and, per capita, they have won more Nobel prizes than any other nation.

The Dutch are so profoundly bourgeois and so deeply religious a people that manifestations of human frailty which would not stand out elsewhere strike the visitor as highly startling. In the Rembrandtsplein, in the heart of Amsterdam, there is a garish constellation of honky-tonks and girlie bars, where I saw couples embracing with an abandon which would not get by in Greenwich Village and where the strip tease is performed with no concessions to Calvinism. And no more than half a mile away from the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, on one bank of a stately canal, there is a street on which prostitutes solicit trade seated beside illuminated windows. It is as though one were to stumble upon a bawdy house in the annex to the vicarage.

Getting there

At the present rate of exchange — 3.80 gulden to the dollar — Holland is one of the cheaper countries in Europe for the American tourist. An admirable way of getting there cheaply—for those who have the time for sea travel—is via the Maasdam or the Ryndam, two up-to-date, 15,000ton passenger liners almost exclusively given over to tourist class accommodations. The $190 (one-way) tourist class fare entitles a passenger to virtually run-of-the-ship privileges, which means that he is traveling about as well as via cabin class on most other liners. The demand for space on these ships is so great that it is necessary to make bookings many months in advance for a spring or summer departure. Direct air service to Amsterdam is provided by Pan American and by the Dutch airline, KLM. The round-trip fare from New York, in season, is $558 on the tourist flights, $756 first class. There is now also a 15-day excursion rate: $461.

From April through August, Holland is overrun with tourists. A visitor rash enough to arrive in Amsterdam or The Hague without a hotel reservation, as I did once, may find not only that all the hotels and pensions are full but that he has a hard time obtaining a bed in one of the private homes which take in tourists. In luxury hotels, the rates run to around $5 for a single with bath and $8 to $10 for a double, breakfast included. The range in hostelries of the second rank is from $2.50 for a single (with bath and breakfast) to $5 for a double.

Food: Dutch

The traveler who is intent on sampling the gastronomic specialties of the places he visits may run into some difficulty in Holland. The national dishes are for the most part on the simple and hearty side, and they are often not available at the establishments which cater to tourists.

I heard a great deal about Dutch pea soup, which is cooked with spicy sausages and pig’s hocks and is supposed to be so thick that a spoon placed in the tureen will stand upright; whenever I asked for it, I was told that it was only featured on the bill of fare in winter. I did eventually succeed in getting rolpens — minced beef encased in tripe, pickled, and served with apple fritters—and it will never figure on my list of memorable dishes. Other national specialties are smoked eels; kroepoek, fritters of ground shrimp; Leiden hutspot, a hotchpotch of stewed beef and vegetables; and, during the month of April exclusively, plover’s eggs, which are esteemed an extraordinary delicacy.

The standard tipple du pays is jenever or Dutch gin, which is drunk neat and has the faintly bitter flavor of juniper berries. The guidebooks assert that Dutch gin is a slowly acquired taste. All I can say is that I became an aficionado after sampling two glasses at a picnic on the New Jersey shore, circa 1940; in my book, a barrel, as the Dutch call a glass of their gin, is one of the world’s finest apéritifs — the equal of the perfect dry martini. Another Dutch specialty in the drink department is advocaat, an eggnog which must contain a couple of thousand calories and which, in this reporter’s opinion, is nauseating stuff.

Food: Indonesian

The most memorable food in Holland is served at the Indonesian restaurants. The two best are the Bali in Amsterdam and the Bali in Scheveningen, the seaside resort next to The Hague; and their prices are incredibly low.

The specialty at these places is rijsttafel, which comes in two sizes, large and small. Anyone with a normal appetite will find the “small" rijsttafel as much as he or she can cope with. Along with steamed and fried rice, it consists of some fifteen platters — the large serving runs to about thirty-five — containing such items as curry soup, shrimp, meat, in fried coconut, spit-roasted pork in hot sauce, fried fish, fried eggs, liver in spicy sauce, and a galaxy of sauces and condiments. This sumptuous meal, accompanied by a bottle of the admirable Heineken’s beer, cost me $2 at the Bali in Amsterdam, tip included.

I suspect that every moderately solvent post-war traveler who has alighted in Amsterdam has paid a visit to The Five Flies, a restaurant housed in an early seventeenth century building and operated by one Nicolaas Kroese, a showman who specializes in dishing out Ye Olde Dutche atmosphere to tourists, preferably American. (The natives assured me that you will never see a Dutchman at The Five Flies, but this is no doubt a slight exaggeration.)

Personally I was not convulsed with delight by the spectacle of the alltourist clientele oafishlv reveling in the blatantly contrived quaintness; and the cuisine struck me as no more than moderately good for the price, which is rather stiff for Holland. However, I know of several highly discriminating travelers who have found The Five Flies irresistible.

The best restaurant in Amsterdam for refined cuisine is Dikker en Thijs, an extremely staid and rather expensive place, whose décor and atmosphere might be described as international Edwardian. Of the authentic “character” places, I recommend Die Port van Cleve, a journalists’ and businessmen’s tavern, founded in 1870, which is notable for its fine biefstuks and its low prices. My favorite spots in The Hague are the Château Bleu, which is chic and expensive; and Sauer, where the sea food is superlatively good. In Rotterdam, the Erasmus is one of the very few first-class restaurants in Holland which specialize in making, to order, the classic Dutch dishes.

Touring by car

Sight-seeing in Holland presents few problems since the distances are

minute, tour services are legion, and buses and trains are comfortable and inexpensive. At the peak of the season, however, the bus tours are often booked to capacity, and anyone who can afford the moderate additional expense will reap handsome dividends from renting a car. A small English car or a Volkswagen, which are perfectly adequate for touring Holland, can be obtained for around $6 a day.

A 120-mile swing, beginning and ending in Amsterdam, covers most of the principal cities and a number of the country’s scenic highlights. First comes Haarlem, the showcase for Frans Hals and the capital of the tulip trade; then the unforgettable patchwork of bulb fields and the beautiful Keukenhof estate at Lisse, in whose gigantic glass pavilion the finest varieties of bulbs are displayed from midApril to mid-May; then Leiden, whose physical charm and historical association are complemented by one of the choicest eating places in Holland, the delightful Taveerne de Beukenhof in the near-by village of Oegstgeest.

From Leiden a short ride takes you to The Hague, where the beautiful Mauritshuis boasts a collection of the masterpieces of Dutch painting which is only surpassed by that of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Less than fifteen minutes from The Hague there is Delft, tranquil and graceful, a veritable museum of Dutch architecture in every stage of its development.

Authentic hand-made Delft pottery is no longer obtainable except in the antique shops. Much of the factory-made “ Delftware" sold in Holland is no longer produced in Delft, and much of it is junk. In the best pottery shops, however, it is possible to find contemporary Delft articles which, though not comparable to the old hand-painted pieces, are gracefully designed and delicately colored.

The itinerary suggested above leads on to Rotterdam, at whose center, barbarously devastated by the Nazis, an ultramodern city is emerging; to Gouda, where the Thursday cheese market is an intriguing spectacle; and to Utrecht, one of the oldest cities in Holland, which has a magnificent cathedral. On the way back to Amsterdam there are a couple of socalled “costume” villages which are not as disconcertingly commercialized as the more famous Marken and Volendam in the north; and slight detours will take you to several of the loveliest moated castles in Holland.

Some oddities

In traveling around and in reading about the Netherlands, I came across some oddities and some queer scraps of information which seem worth passing on to the prospective visitor:

Amsterdam is the capital of Holland but The Hague is the seat of government.

Holland is so flat that the nine hills of over 300 feet in the province of Gelderland are sometimes referred to as “the Dutch Alps.”

In the village of Broek, which claims to be the cleanest in the world, the streets are scrubbed with soap.

Some 2800 varieties of tulips are grown in Holland. When a tulip mania swept Europe in the sixteenthirties, one bulb was sold for $2000 plus a coach-and-four.

A popular restaurant in Amsterdam has found an ingenious way of satisfying Dutch thrift, the robust Dutch appetite, and the Dutch passion for diminutives. It features a 25-cent luncheon billed as “Big Little Twelve O’clocklet.”

Fooi in Dutch means tip, and menu is not the bill of fare but the fixed price or table-d’hôte meal.

Dutch authors, per capita, produce more books per year than the Americans, the British, or the French.