The day after our biking and museum-going expedition, Ingrid took me to the beach. The beach, you ask? I know, it’s something I associate with Florida, not Holland. Still, I had read in a guide book that the beach is a thing in the Netherlands in the summer, so off we went. We walked a couple blocks to the bus stop, took a bus into central Utrecht, then took a train to the seaside town of Zandvoort (“zand” meaning “sand”, a Dutch word even I can memorize). If I were in Minnesota, I would have driven the distance – about 45 minutes – to Zandvoort, but I don’t think it ever occurred to Ingrid not to take public transport.
It was a cloudy, blustery day. We sat on a restaurant patio that had clear plexiglas walls to break the wind. We ordered some food; in Minnesota such a restaurant would hardly be worthy of the name restaurant, you would only be able to get a frozen burger and fries and ice cream. But here, we had smoked salmon and pate and incredibly lightly fried battered cod and good bread, plus my favorite mid-day traveling beverage, cappuccino.
We went down to the beach and strolled. Like kids everywhere, the Dutch kids were having fun in the waves and sand while their parents watched, bundled up in sweaters and wincing at the wind. Ingrid and I were deep into some profound subject so we didn’t notice the cold.
There were cabins aligned along the beach—for rent? I suppose it would be fun for kids and dads and dogs to have the family vacation at the seaside, but it would be miserable for moms. The tent-like things in the background are pop-up wind breaks.
We moseyed back up from the beach and sat at a table on another patio. I had a beer that was really, really good. I wonder if I’ll be able to find it again. I wonder if it just tasted so good because of the atmosphere.
Ingrid went to the toilet and the sun came out for the first time that day. I leaned my head back against the cushions and half fell asleep. It was one of those rare moments when I was completely content and at ease and I could have stayed there for hours.
When we got back, we rode our bikes by Ingrid’s son’s baseball game. Baseball, you ask? Yes, I was surprised too. Baseball is catching on in the Netherlands, and Ingrid’s son Simon is an ace pitcher.
That night we went out for pancakes. Pancakes for dinner, you ask? Yes. But not just any pancakes, and not just at any old pancake house. This place, Theehuis Rhijnauwen, was in the countryside with tables on the lawn leading down to a stream. We had to move inside because it was chilly, but then the pancakes came. As you can see, they’re the size of pizzas. Mine was savory, with red peppers, onions, and cheese. Here is the menu in English.
Now I faced a dilemma. Chris and Ingrid had sprung for Indonesian take out the night I arrived. We had gone to a nice restaurant the second night, and Chris had insisted on paying. Tonight he did the same. I didn’t know how hard I should push to pay—at least for my own. The Dutch have a reputation for being very frugal, and of course there is the phrase “Dutch treat” which means splitting the bill. I was also drinking their coffee and eating their cheese, their most valuable possession, in the mornings.
I never know if this is all about my insecurities growing up in a hard scrabble household, or if everyone else is thinking, “Wow, what a leech Anne is, not paying for anything.”
The next day Ingrid and I were leaving for Salzburg, so being a little anxious, I awoke even earlier than usual. The house was silent. Needing coffee, I crept down to the kitchen and turned on the fancy machine that makes coffee, tea, cappuccino, and espresso. It went “BRRRRRRRRRR!!!” like an alarm clock and woke up the whole household. And that was the start of our day.