Dispatches from the Road: The Netherlands

City Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Europe, Food & Wine, Parties, Festivals & Events — By on June 6, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Travel not only changes your scenery, but can also alter the very way you live your life. When Canadian Lost Girl Heather Pals left everything familiar behind in to live in the Netherlands, she discovered how to focus more on her relationships, and why she doesn’t always need to have a plan. Here’s her inside scoop on living the Dutch life.

One year ago, a week after finishing my undergraduate degree, I packed my life in two suitcases and set off to the Netherlands. Looking back, it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, although at the time, it seemed crazy, unexpected, and scary.

I’m the type of person who likes plans. I make lists, follow them to a tee, and methodically cross off items along the way. When I didn’t know what to do after graduation, the logical choice seemed to pursue more graduate studies, and make smart use of my time. After all, that is what most of my friends did. However, I knew that higher education was always something I could return to, but the opportunity to live abroad and experience a different way of life may never happen again. Armed with a small amount of knowledge about Dutch culture (my paternal grandparents are from the Netherlands), a supportive boyfriend, and a hefty Skype credit, I did what seemed unthinkable to professors and traditionalists back home: I moved to the world’s most liberal and invigorating cities, Amsterdam!

Living in Amsterdam, you definitely get a different perspective on things than if you were just passing through on a quick visit. We frequent places where the locals hang out, and live in the most up and coming neighborhood in the city: De Pijp. Right around the corner from the Heineken brewery, it has all the greatest cafes, bars, and shops in the city…it is Amsterdam’s best-kept secret! De Pijp is a little corner of the city filled with young professionals, and has been called Amsterdam’s Latin Quarter. Previously famous for its prostitution and brothels, it is now home to an eclectic mix of international cuisine and culture, a perfect escape from the seedy Red Light District and “coffee shops” of the city center.

The greatest thing about Amsterdam is the laid-back culture of its citizens. Sitting for hours at a sidewalk cafe, sipping a beer or a cup of coffee, and talking with friends is the national pastime. People are warm, inviting, and helpful. They are curious about North Americans, and aren’t hesitant to tell you in typical Dutch bluntness what they think.

amsterdam lost girls We spend hours boating down the beautiful canals, munching appetizers and sipping champagne, learning about the lives of our new friends. It’s so relaxed here, and a much different mindset than in North America. Here, people work to live, not live to work. There is a clear separation between work-life and personal life. When people return home from work, they completely devote themselves to family time, a close group of friends, and travel.

Oh, and the Dutch love to party! Festivals, carnivals, and national holidays abound. Most are excuses for people to dress up in costumes and taste all of their fabulous local beers. The country can definitely be summed up in one word that has no literal English translation: gezellig. Gezellig is a staple in Dutch vocabulary, and conveys a feeling of coziness, warmth, and intimacy. It can be applied to people, situations, or an overall feeling you have, and it’s what the Dutch thrive on.

Perhaps the greatest piece of Dutch wisdom is one that most of the citizens share. It has been passed on to me through my grandfather, and is the general mentality of people here: Act Normal, That’s Crazy Enough. When I eventually return home to North America, I hope to take with me a piece of the Dutch way of life, and try to recreate the laid-back, friendly atmosphere of this awe-inspiring country. Until then, I’m content visiting flower markets, touring the Netherlands, and learning to live (as hard as it may be!) without a plan.”

Tags: , ,