The Netherlands – Windmills, Cheese and the Dark Swan
The glimpse of vast green fields lined with canal streams and windmills of all sizes greeted me from the tiny plane window as I landed the Schipol Airport and the drive to Leiden to meet Suruchi tai added to the eagerness of exploring a foreign land. Such is the beauty of the online world, that it gives you opportunities to meet a seemingly stranger over a few pleasant exchanges. Tai is Aditya’s cousin and we know each other only through facebook!
The Dutch styled home felt so welcoming thanks to the hospitality of the hosts! My humble rented apartment at wimbeldon seemed like a pigeon hole compared to their spacious home. Chatter with tai gathered momentum over garam garam polis and experiences we had while staying abroad. We spoke as if we knew each other for a long time.
The next noon, I took a train to Amsterdam to continue the rest of my trip to meet my dear friend Hrishi and his new wife Sonal who were coming from Mumbai via Germany. The plan was to spend a weekend at Amsterdam with our spouses. However hubby couldn’t join and I decided to go ahead. The last time I met Hrishi was the day when I left India for London and I was really looking forward for this trip. I might add that our friendship has lasted over years now as also across continents!
(In Mumbai we have been breakfast buddies as both of us are early risers. Rather, the Shaadi ka side effect is that I don’t get up early anymore on weekends)
The Country of Windmills and Cheese
As a self-proclaimed city guide, we decided to visit the Anne Frank museum only to be disappointed with the long queue. So we skipped it and instead passed every single street in this lovely canal striped city. The city’s by lanes are filled with cafes, restaurants, boutiques, quirky shops and the window displays are very alive and inviting. (Or was it that I was in a familiar company of a friend after ages and we were eating away random stuff happily?)
We ate possibly anything and everything which came our way. The yummiest street food – Crayfish sandwich, something which I did not sample and feel guilty about. Even Sonal who is really a veggie at heart loved it. Lots of shops offer cheeses to sample and the huge cheese slabs put an instant smile on your face. Many cafes offer ‘Pancakes’, a Dutch favourite. (rather touristy) So we sampled some huge and delicious ones at The Pancake bakery and were stuffed to the core. They offer sweet and savoury pancakes – atleast 30 varieties. However, we failed to sample some authentic Dutch cuisine!(The above paragraph is truly dedicated to my food loving husband who missed it !)
Amsterdam has a variety of restaurants catering to all budgets. It is also a home to Heineken brewery. But we decided to skip that and instead went to a brewery at Eastern docklands which was situated in a cute Windmill to sample some beers!
The rest of the beer sampling was done in our cosy houseboat! It is a country of canals isn’t, it?
The cycling commuters in the city are friendly too and you could explore the city on cycle yourself with the number of ‘Rent a Bike’shops. There is a casual, light hearted air in the streets of Amsterdam and the large windows of Dutch houses added to the charm of the city otherwise notorious for its immoral activities.
Yes, you could smell weed at every nook and corner and the cobbled streets are dotted with cigarette butts! Yet we never experienced any trouble from anyone or perhaps we rather stayed clear of seedy lanes especially at night.
To escape the regular city break, we travelled to a nearby village ‘Zaanse Schaans’.
Just a short walk from the railway station and our footsteps followed the directions to the Village of Windmills set on a river and vast fields.
Within a seconds, I jumped with joy at the sight of the pretty village and exclaimed , ‘’Aye mala chocolate cha masta vaas yetoy’’.
The three of us went berserk !! It was probably everyone’s dream as a child to be in a village with some ‘chocolate element’’ in it….. forget the streets of Amsterdam filled with weed, we were in heaven. The village has maintained the dark green houses with wide windows and little bridges over rivulets. Ducks, geese and swans made cute poses for us.
Each house or a windmill represents a traditional cottage industry viz., cheese, saw mill, oil mill, wooden shoes etc. Although, the concept was a bit touristy, we made the most of the sunny day sampling and of course buying cheeses, the traditional blue ceramics and not to forget a chocolate making demonstration.
The secret of the chocolate smell titillating our olfactory senses? The chocolate factory on the opposite side of the village.
The Dark Swans
The question was to be or not to be. We were in the city of sin of Europe and how could we not escape the lure of drugs or sex? Well, sorry Weed you did not seem tempting enough!! Firstly, none of us knew how to use or right places to buy and secondly we were too absorbed and happy. Meeting friends after a long time is a big high!
As for sex tourism and live sex shows well to each one is own!! Personally, I find it gruesome and repulsive. Moreover, I find it shallow enjoyment for the moves would be artificial and choreographed!
At 15, I have cried and touched by the concept of ‘prostitution’ itself. At 26 my heart did not move with the concept of ‘touring the district’.
Prostitutes have been a subject of debate and is so often discussed in cinema and art. Today, legislation in many countries does not legalise the trade. Some claim that even the legalised industry in Amsterdam does not resolve the problem of ‘forced trade’ (Human Trafficking is a serious issue in Eastern Europe) itself.
Nevertheless we decided to go for the recommended walk at the De Wallen-the Red Light District and we were not alone. There were several like us who were walking past the red neon light coloured ‘Display windows’. Some ‘stag’ night revellers were the potential clients however, it was such an irony; it was hard to spot the other ‘clients’ in the crowd.
The women were very obvious, very plastic, the perfect make-up, the thin arched eyebrows, the ample cleavage oozing out, making gestures to the passerbys. There were no different from the prostitutes one sees at grant road or the ladyboys of Bangkok. The only difference could be the costume, the ones on grant road could be in a sari with a garish make-up, the ladyboys with their straight falling hair in short dresses and these women were in lingerie.
They were the seductress, the temptresses, perhaps saviours for someone (as fancied in art/movies)or a casual one of thing for the other. They were the dark swans.
Amidst the thoughts and the crowd, I could not help but notice something unusual which wasn’t seen in the canals of the other lanes. The canal adjacent to the red light district street was filled with ducks, geese and swans, very unlikely at that hour.
Although they seemed alright, I was worried, were they trapped?
6 March 2014