Arnhem, the Netherlands 24-November-1999

Each time I try to describe Arnhem in words, after the trip...I fail. So this time I am actually writing this while I am here. People often ask me why I love this place so much (I tell everyone that it is my favorite spot on the entire planet). I think it's because time seems to move differently here: It's reflected in the attitude of the people, the architecture, and in the very air. Time seems to move slower here. No, that is not quite right. It's more like: 'Time has no meaning here'. You know that time is moving on...the sun rises and sets like in any other part of the world, yet you barely notice its passage. I don't feel the driving ambition that I do in the United States. If I were in the States, and had no ambition, I would be worried that I was missing something: It's that school of thought that says if you are not moving forward, you are not resting, but moving backwards. Here that is of no concern: I am content...I am happy. Happy in the summertime when the sun stays in the sky till near midnight. Happy in the fall when I am enjoying a drink at a cozy little café while the brisk wind gently blows the fallen leaves across the cobblestone streets in town. After seeing Rosendaal Castle, I imagine that I would be happy here in the winter too: Ice Skating on the moat in front of the castle, drinking coffee or hot spiced wine in front of a fire at some café: I can think of no finer way to spend a winter's day (well, except for skiing, perhaps).

Arnhem has it all. It lacks the bustle of a larger city like Amsterdam, yet there is plenty to do here. There are arts, there is culture. There are happy people. The people seem happier (or perhaps more carefree) than anywhere. You can see the joy in their rosy cheeks as the converse with friends walking down the street: a very happy people. Culture? You bet. Those of us not old enough to remember (yet old enough to forget World War II history), will be amazed at the history of this town. The famous 'Operation: Market Garden' of World War II, where the Allies attempted to take the bridge at Arnhem from the Nazis (ever seen 'A Bridge Too Far'?) in the largest (failed) Airborne Assault in history. Despite the destruction in the war, the people here rebuilt the city. It's interesting...even the modern architecture here has an 'old world' charm that you never see in the United States. Indeed, the Dutch people in general never seem to be content with doing things the way they have 'always been done'. There is a pervasive attitude among these people that seems to always look for better (or different) ways of doing things. From their Art Deco design to the oldest Church, these people are very proud of being Dutch and doing things their way. And do you know what? A lot of things they do, they do better than we do in the States.

Who says that you need a car? Most things in town are close enough to be reached by bicycle. Indeed, this is one of the first impressionsa visitor gets when visiting the Netherlands: they bike everywhere. And are the bikes the shiny, new mountain bike type? No sir! Once again, sometimes the old ways are better than the new ways. Of course, there is always the oldest method of transportation: the feet! I thoroughroughly enjoyed the 1 mile walk from my hotel, the Rijnhotel on the banks of the Rhine River into town. The walk clears the head, and prepares you to relax and forget your cares when you reach town. It is also an incredible digestive aid...especially after you've had an incredible dinner in town. I have gotten over my initial horror of Mayonnaise on French Fries (Frites), and now, I'll never use Ketchup again! And Frites are not the limitation of cuisine in the Netherlands. Duck, pheasant, name it, they have it and prepare it splendidly. I have always loved French Cuisine, but I would have to say that the Dutch Cuisine that I have had here in Arnhem rivals that of Le Dome in Paris (at about 1/5th the price)!

Another 'European' thing that requires mental adjustment: the size of things. In the States, everything seems to be big...and it seems it's part of our culture to strive to make the biggest and the best of everything. Europeans, and the Dutch especially, know that bigger is not necessarily better (just remember this the first time that you book a hotel in Paris and it is less than $150 a helps prepare you for the shock). From coffee makers, to toilets (piece of advice: never call them 'bathrooms' or restrooms...there is neither a tub or a couch in there), to cars...everything is small. But you know what? After a while you begin to realize that things are never always have room for what you need to. A better term is economical or concise.

Ok, what else? The Language? Well...I guess that the Dutch realize that their language is next to impossible (I've heard it said by knowledgeable folks that Dutch is one of the hardest languages in the World to learn...and I believe it). Just stick with 'Dank U Wel' and you'll do fine, because EVERYONE in the Netherlands speaks English. Don't believe me? Just walk into any café, restaurant, taxi, museum or whatever and state your needs in perfect will be understood. More than understood: People will actually have conversations with you! It's not the snobby 'I know English because my Job requires it' type of attitude that you get in France (Tip of the Day: If you go to Paris, do it during the off season...people are much nicer in the fall and winter than they are in the summer where every Tom, Dick and Harry comes up to them and says (condescendingly): 'You all do speak English, don't ya?').

What else about Arnhem? Well for the History buffs, there are plenty of Museums (another tip: Pick up a Museumjkaart card. They cost about $25 US and will get you into most of the Museums in the entire country, including those in Amsterdam and in Arnhem) and Monuments (mostly covering World War II). There is also the Rijnhall that hosts some amazing concerts. There is the World Famous (or so I am told) Burger's Zoo just outside of town. I've only seen it passing by, but it looks quite impressive. Speaking of passing by: One of the greatest things in Arnhem is a ride through the countryside. Arnhem sits on the edge of one of the largest forests in Europe. It's kind of like the Black Forest in Germany, in that there is almost no undergrowth, and the trees are ancient! Next summer vacation: Camping in the forest. It is simply amazing!

The absolute best thing to do in Arnhem is: nothing. That's right, nothing. Simply head into town and café hop, or sit outside, sip a beer and just relax. It's amazing how simple (and yet so rich) this kind of life can be. You can run around like a chicken with it's head cut off in the States after work (pick up the dry cleaning, pick up groceries, go to the gym, catch 'Must See TV) if you want to, but here that simply doesn't cut it. No one does it (that I could see). The simple life doesn't have to be the boring life. There are not nearly as many distractions in the Netherlands as there are in the United States. It's not that people have no ambition or goals, they just don't have the need to prove it to anyone else. They have been stripped of the responsibility and the pressure that we have in the US to be the best at all costs. They do things because they enjoy them, not because if they don't, people will look down on them. There is pride in what they do. Their goods tend to not be the mass market type of products. They craft things that fit their needs.

Anyway....It used to be Lisbon: My recommendation for first-timers in Europe. Now that is gone and in it's place: the Netherlands. There is so much to do it, and when you are done, spend some time doing nothing. You'll be surprised at what you were missing.

Other Destinations

Big Sur, California Lisbon, Portugal Paris, France Madrid, Spain
São Paulo, Brazil Caracas, Venezuela Amsterdam, Netherlands Arnhem, Netherlands
Nassau, Bahamas London, England Curaçao, Netherland Antilles Santiago, Chile
Edinburgh, Scotland Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Hyderabad, India Rome & Florence, Italy

© 2003 - Todd L. Holsopple
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