5. Tasty treats
Whether your vice is hot stroopwafel (a crispy carmel filled flat cookie pressed to perfection) made fresh in front of you. Or if it's a piece of delectable Belgian chocolate. Here you are never more than a few minutes away from a tasty treat. For me it's Belgian fries smothered with a green pepper sauce (And no, it's not the mayonnaise they put on their fries in Pulp Fiction, it's frite sauce which is so much better). It's also a frosty Trappist bier, brewed to perfection at an abby by monks, these are in my opinion the best beers in the world. These beers pack a punch, many are stronger than a glass of wine. I haven't even mentioned the Belgian waffles, the Dutch pannenkoeken, the cheeses or the bitter-balls (creamy deep-fried meatballs), and the ice cream...Yum! So many snacks to choose from, so little time!
4. The Spring
Everything comes to life during the springtime in the Low Countries. As the temperature starts to warm up, so do the people. Excitement is in the air, the winter is over and new life begins. The tulips, daffodils, and rhododendrons explode into action as if setting off a cue to the people to do the same. The spring brings about the beginning of the festival season with a couple of my favorite holidays in the Netherlands. Queen's day, or as it is soon to be known as King's day with the changing from Queen Beatrix to her son King Willem Alexander, is one of the biggest celebrations in the Netherlands. The entire country dresses in the patriotic orange while partying the day away. There's also Hemelvaartsdag, or Ascension day where the whole nation takes to their bicycles early in the morning and cycles around with their friends stopping at cyclist rest stops or pop up parties in the countryside. Perhaps one of the only holidays in the world celebrated on a bike!
3. The Cities
If you're not from Holland or Belgium, biking in the cities can take some getting used to. Rush hour on a bike in the Low countries should be an extreme sport all on its own. If you factor in all of the bikes, the trams, not to mention all of the car traffic it's quite a rush. Many decisions are made only giving centimeters for error, but for some reason you don't see very many accidents (perhaps in Amsterdam, but those usually involve a tourist and perhaps their judgement has been slightly impaired...) You also never know what you'll see when riding around one of these big cities. From the quirky shops, quaint cafes, world class museums, city parks, to the fantastic people watching, there's always something to look at.
2. The Landscape
The Dutch consider themselves a nation of artists. With such masters as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, and Escher its no wonder. I often have the feeling while cycling through the countryside that I'm cycling through a great painting. The Dutch are also masters of their landscape. In fact, the word landscape comes to us from the Dutch 'Landschap'. It's no wonder we use their word, almost the entire country has been created shaped and landscaped from scratch! Still today people take a lot of pride in their landscaping. You can see them hard at work in their wooden shoes planting their fantastic gardens, pruning their trees, and of course cleaning their windows so that they have a clear view of all of their work.
1. A Cyclers Paradise
With bike paths that could stretch around the world there is never a shortage of options here while on your bike. Cycle through sand dunes, farms and pastures, forests, parks, next to canals and windmills, along the Rhine river or the North sea or past famous battlefields. There are ferries dedicated to transporting only cyclists. There's a bike lane on almost every road and many more cycling only paths. There are more bikes than people. The Netherlands is also considering having heated bike paths to keep them clear of snow and ice in the winter! All of these paths are well marked and tied together by the fietspad (bike-path) network. I have lived in Holland for almost two years and I cycle nearly everyday. There are still paths and routes nearby that I haven't yet explored. I'm hoping that one day this cycler's mentality will spread across the pond to the USA. I can always dream right?