The Land of Happy Cows

Dairy cows in field with University of Utrecht campus in distance.

Dairy cows in field with University of Utrecht campus in distance.

With one look my husband fell in love with Dutch…cows.

“They look so happy!” Michael exclaimed on our first train trip through central Holland, several years ago. I pointed out he probably meant they appeared to be well-fed and watered, and thus are probably physically “content,”  because it’s really not possible for humans to assess an animal’s “happiness,” especially from a whizzing train. But, being Michael, he refused to budge from his anthropomorphic assessment of hundreds of bovines’ mental state.

“Cows in Holland are happy cows.”

Drawing on lessons from Psych 101, I canned logical argument and attempted to draw out his “reasoning” with an encouraging “Uh-huh?”

“The cows here are happy, because the grass is so green, there’s water everywhere, their udders are huge – and they look so happy!”

I summoned my nominal bovine knowledge and replied, “Full udders mean they need to be milked and the cows are probably wishing for nothing more right now than to get back to the barn, get out of this damn rain, and get milked so their udders won’t be so painful.” He, of course, ignored me.

And so he began calling the rain-soaked, canal-ringed-and-riddled, mostly-below-sea level Netherlands (italics are a clue, folks) “The Land of Happy Cows.”

So much for psychology.

To exacerbate my annoyance with such anthropomorphism, Michael began to “document” why Dutch cows look happy. He claims several people told him (I’ve not met one) the Dutch had passed laws years ago that restricted the amount of time cows could be kept penned within barns. In other words, lots of rain, fresh air, lush grass, and water produce healthier cows, which results (theoretically) in a higher quality of milk from which the fabulous Dutch cheese is made.  And, as Michael insists: “happy cows.”

(Mind you, Michael is New York City born and bred and just because he learned to fix a tractor and ride a horse does not necessarily make him a Bovine Authority.)

Being the curious sort, I finally got around to doing an internet search on Dutch laws concerning cows’ rights to stand out in the rain all day chewing their cuds. I found general laws on livestock husbandry, but nothing to indicate that the Dutch have embraced bovine grazing rights as banner legislation. In fact, I found the exact opposite: according to two 2013 reports, grazing among dairy cows is rapidly decreasing in Western Europe, including the Netherlands.

So — where’s the cow?

Cows are everywhere in Holland. You find them in the darnedest places.

The Bar Cow at Cafe Belgie

The Bar Cow at Cafe Belgie

Trust the Dutch to decorate their bikes with cow pix.

Trust the Dutch to decorate their bikes with cow pix.

And if you can't find cows in the middle of Utrecht, you can bring along your own inflatable cow.

And if you can’t find cows in the middle of Utrecht, you can bring along your own inflatable cow.

First, a bit of History of the Dutch Dairy Cow. All those cud-chewing, udderly fat cows that Michael claims are so happy are all Holstein-Friesian cows, usually called Holsteins, the hands-down best milk-producing bovines on the planet. And, of course, these cows developed in…Friesland, in northern Netherlands! Early Dutch settlers brought some Holsteins with them in the 1600’s when they settled in New Amsterdam (currently New York City) and upstate New York. As other colonists discovered the attributes of the breed in milk production, additional Holsteins were imported. By the late 19th c., the Holstein became the foundation of U.S. dairy production.

These black and white cows initially were bred to thrive on the native grasses of northern Netherlands, but on modern dairy farms, their diet is no longer exclusively grass. They are given feed supplements of both grain and dried grasses (hay), especially in the winter months.

A typical Holstein cow.

A typical Holstein cow.

The Dutch Dairy Board website is chock-full of fascinating information about the dairy industry, including their “thematic goal” of maintaining grazing “at least at its current levels.” Having cows graze 6 hours per day, 120 days per year seems to be part of the “grazing goal.” However, while they note that 73.6% of dairy cows meet this “grazing goal,” 18.8% never graze at all, and the remaining 7.7% have an unspecified, “other type” of grazing.

What the Dutch do seem to regulate quite well are the limitation of unnecessary antibiotics, prohibition of hormones to increase milk production, the types of minerals (e.g. fertilizers, and other grass “enhancers”) put into the soil, veterinary “treatments,” as well as milk processing from milking to end dairy product – all good activities for consumer, bovine and environmental well-being.

So, in answer to the question heading this paragraph, nearly three-fourths of Dutch Holstein cows of today spend a lot of time standing in pastures during the months of April to November. They don’t seem to mind the rain, which is a good attribute, and despite the time of day, their udders always look full-to-bursting from all that lush, rain-soaked grass.

(For a cute but short video of happy-looking cows being released from their barn in springtime, go to

But as noted by the Dutch Dairy Board, this picturesque pastoral scene of contentedly grazing cows is rapidly changing. The small-holder dairy farms are facing increasing economic pressures and competition from larger “franchises,” and many solo farmers have been swallowed by these milk-production conglomerates.

So, Michael, enjoy your “happy” cows. For the foreseeable future we can both continue to call the Netherlands “The Land of Happy Cows,” and toast these joyous bovines who produce such good cheese.



Some Peripheral Information on Dairy Cows

If you’re sick of reading about cows and dairy production, skip “Dairy Facts” and go straight to “Famous Cows.” The latter is amusing, I guarantee it.

Dairy Facts:

I know I get carried away in researching my blogs, but some of what I found out about the dairy industry, particularly in Holland, is interesting:

  • According to a 2013 report by the Dutch Dairy Board, “Dairy is the engine of the Dutch economy.”
  • There are 18,500 dairy farms and 1.97 million dairy cows in the Netherlands which produce 12 billion kilos of milk annually (about 26.45 billion pounds).
  • 56% of Dutch dairy products is cheese.
  • Dairy products accounts for 9% of the Dutch economy’s trade surplus.

And in the U.S.:

  • The World Dairy Expo is the international trade organization for dairy cows and is held annually in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s the largest dairy trade show in the world, but features dairy cattle from the U.S. and Canada.
  • Black and white Holsteins (there is a recessive line of red and whites) have won “Supreme Champion” honors at the World Dairy Expo 32 times in the last 42 years, far more than any other breed of dairy cow.
  • There are over 9 million dairy cows in the U.S., and 90% of them are of Holstein descent.

Famous Cows: (This is why blogs were invented….)

  • A Canadian Holstein named Missy is the most expensive cow in the world, bringing $1.2 million in after being named “Supreme Cow” at the World Dairy Expo in 2011.
  • A Holstein cow named “Ever-Green-View My 1326-ET” (no lie) won the world record for milk production in 2010 by producing over 72,000 pounds of milk in one year. The average Holstein produces 23,000 pounds of milk per year. Of note, “Ever-Green” is a Wisconsin cow.
  • President William Howard Taft had not one – but TWO – pet cows at the White House. When the first official “Presidential Cow” Mooley Wooly died, Senator Isaac Stephenson of Wisconsin donated “Miss Pauline Wayne,” a Holstein from his farm. “Miss Wayne” served as “First Cow” for three years. She became popular at dairy trade shows where her milk, in miniature bottles, was sold as a novelty for 50 cents. (Talk about a cash cow…) When Taft left office, “Miss Wayne” was returned to Stephenson’s farm.
  • “Miss Wayne” narrowly missed an ignominious death in 1911.  She was returning from an appearance at a dairy show when her private train car was accidentally attached at a rail switch to a train of cattle cars bound for the Chicago slaughter houses. Telegrams were sent throughout the land and a group of cow-loving vigilantes saved Miss Wayne. Apparently, they had a tough time convincing the stockyard that they were about to slaughter the President’s pet cow.

And – finally – that’s it, folks, from the Land of Happy Cows!

What more can I guy want -- a field full of happy cows!

What more can a guy want — a field full of happy cows!





Canal-Biking in Utrecht

The Oudegracht

The Oudegracht

Michael and I have been trying to engage in some fun activities besides teaching, blogging, and simply “hanging” with friends, all of which are great fun, mind you. Recently we rented kayaks and paddled up a river away from the city. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera as I didn’t want to risk it suddenly taking a swim if I dropped it.

One recent, sunny day, we decided to rent a “canal bike,” or paddle boat. Two years ago we had taken a rather pleasant tourist boat tour through Utrecht’s canals, but the motorized boat went too fast to take all the detail pictures I wanted. So, on another sunny day, we rented a “canal bike” and off we paddled.

One aspect of living in a land riddled with water — canals, rivers, irrigation ditches, dikes — there are an awful lot of bridges, large and small, you cross over. What is interesting living in an old city like Utrecht is passing under the bridges and seeing their unique aspects. One of my favorites is “The Smiths’ Bridge,” or “Smee Brug,” as seen below. Even after centuries, you can see the sculpted relief of a blacksmith hammering on his forge. Most of the old bridges received their names because of what activity took place in the environs. There used to be a number of smiths living in the area.

The Smiths' Bridge

The Smiths’ Bridge

This is one of several bridges spanning the Oudegracht, or “Old Canal,” which runs through the center of the old city. In the northern sections the Oudegracht dates to 1000 C.E., and were connected to the old bed of the Rhine River; the “younger” sections date to about 1122. Along the waterways of the canal and rivers were a system of locks and sluices, still used today, to help control flooding and maintain a constant water level.

Old wharfs and doors leading to storerooms, many now converted into cozy homes or restaurants.

Old wharfs and doors leading to storerooms, many now converted into
cozy homes or restaurants.

The old city of Utrecht was once encircled by a moat-like artificial waterway called the Singel. Parts of it were filled in and covered over, but there are plans afoot to dig out and reopen the old Singel’s to its original path.


The Singel, wider than the major canals, served as a moat around the old city.

So, if the Singel is like a water belt around the inner city of Utrecht, the Oudergracht runs, more or less, on a north-south direction down the middle, bisecting the Singel. A “new canal,” The Nieuvwegracht,” runs roughly parallel to the old canal to the east. It’s called the “new” canal as it was constructed in the late 1300s. It’s also been called by many people one of the prettiest canals in all of the Netherlands.

By turning north under this bridge, you enter the Nieuvwegracht.

By turning north under this bridge, you enter the Nieuvwegracht.

On this paddle up the canal, we spotted an elderly man fishing. I knew who he was immediately because of the heron perched on his bow. I’d been told that this heron lives on the man’s boat, even when it’s moored in the Singel, and stays with him when he fishes, because the man will give him some of the fish he catches. I’d seen the boat, empty, with the heron perched on it, and, true to what I’d been told, here was the heron, accompanying the fisherman in the boat.

In Utrecht, a fisherman's best friend is a heron.

In Utrecht, a fisherman’s best friend is a heron.


Our good friends Corinne and Martin, and Fred and Petra, all live on a lovely stretch of the Nieuvwegracht. When we first came to the Netherlands in 2011, we stayed several days in a hotel apartment right next to Corinne and Martin, which is how we came to be friends. We stayed there again this year for a week, waiting for our “permanent” apartment to be available.

Many pleasant hours have been spent in front of Corinne and Martin's wharf house (with the open black doors). We stayed in the apartment to the right with the white bench in front of it.

Many pleasant hours have been spent in front of Corinne and Martin’s wharf house (with the open black doors). We stayed in the apartment to the right with the white bench in front of it.

Corinne, Ferdinand, Michael and Martin.

Corinne, Ferdinand, Michael and Martin.

One of the prettiest parts of the Nieuvwegracht is where it narrows considerably and begins to twist and turn through the old neighborhoods of Utrecht. Here the houses are much closer to the water, many flush against the canal walls, or there is only one small street alongside the canal.

Turning into the narrows of the Nieuvwegracht.

Turning into the narrows of the Nieuvwegracht.


This section is called “Kromme Nieuvwegracht,” or “Crooked New Canal.” Most of the bridges here have been rebuilt several times over the centuries, while a few from the1500sstill remain.



The Plompe Toren, or Squat Tower.

The Plompe Toren, or Squat Tower.

This plaque in stone relief marks where the “Squat Tower” once stood. It was once part of the outer defense works of the old city. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in 1832 to make way for the growing city.

The old drainage system.

The old drainage system.

As you can see from the pipes jutting from both sides of the canal, these pipes were part of a drainage system funneling wastes and excess ground water into the canals. Fortunately, the canals have cleaned up considerably.

The Nieuvwegracht connects at its north end to the water-ring, the Singel, and then a left hand turn a couple hundred meters later put your canal-bike back on the Oudegracht (Old Canal).

Stately 19th century homes line the north end of the Singel.

Stately 19th century homes line the north end of the Singel.

Paddling south on the Oudegracht, passing the center of the city where hundreds gather on wharf restaurants to enjoy the ambiance.

Paddling south on the Oudegracht, passing the center of the city where hundreds gather on wharf restaurants to enjoy the ambiance.

We’ve spent many an evening dining along this stretch of the Oudergracht, which meanders through the heart of the old city.

And, back to the rental kiosk and the end of our canal-bike tour.  Dooie!

In the heart of old Utrecht. The Dom Tower is in the background.

In the heart of old Utrecht. The Dom Tower is in the background.

Utrecht is Open for Business (and Merriment)

What's a [arty without cheese?

What’s a party without cheese?

Sundays in Utrecht used to be rather quiet. Except for the “Koopzondag” (sale Sunday) when many stores would open just the first Sunday of each month, most shops — even grocery stores — closed down Sunday and half of Mondays. Most apoteks (pharmacies) closed on Saturday as well, although usually they would take turns staying open on the the weekends in case of medicinal emergencies. Then, last year, local businesses began a direct advertising campaign to allow the shops to stay open. I woke one Sunday to find every single bicycle seat in our area had been adorned with a gratis water-proof seat cover — with a message:

A plea for stores to stay open on Sundays in downtown Utrecht.

Loosely translated: “Utrecht wants to be open on Sundays.”

And so it now Utrecht is open for business on Sundays. Well, maybe not all the shops are open on every Sunday.  But I have noticed several shops around town have signs posted or painted in their windows, announcing their Sunday availability:



So the streets of Utrecht are bustling nearly every day.

This  window is advertising gifts, Father's Day, and that it's open Sundays (lower right).

This window is advertising gifts, Father’s Day, and that it’s open Sundays (lower right).

And, of course, Utrecht has always gotten around the Dutch version of “blue laws” by having many weekend  events. It comes down to any excuse to have a party, and what better way to make money then having a party along with stoking your cash drawer?

This past weekend was a cultural weekend, I was told, so there were crowds, music venues and street fairs all over the binnestad, or inner city. The “main street” just steps from our front door was closed off and most of the local shopkeepers and other entrpreneurs had stalls displaying their wares.

Twijnstraat, just a few steps from our front door, is a major commercial leg in the historic part of Utrecht. For the fair, stalls lined the street with wares from both local businessmen and other entrepreneurs.

Twijnstraat, just a few steps from our front door, is a major commercial leg in the historic part of Utrecht. For the fair, stalls lined the street with wares from both local businessmen and other entrepreneurs.

Strawberries are in season and are delicious!

Strawberries are in season and are delicious.

Sausages for sale.

Sausages for sale.

The sign says "Fish and chips," but I saw no frites. Kind of an interesting way to consume fish -- whole -- scales, eyes and all.

The sign says “Fish and chips,” but I saw no frites. Kind of an interesting way to consume fish — whole and smoked, not fried — scales, eyes and all.

Who knew there were so many flavors of live oil?

Who knew there were so many flavors of live oil?

Sausage and meats.

Sausage and meats.

Jams and jellies for brood (bread) toppings. I've never seen people eat so much bread, not even the French.

Jams and jellies for brood (bread) toppings. I’ve never seen people eat so much bread, not even the French.

Dutch women wear tights a LOT, under tees, tunics and even dresses. Considering how much biking they do -- and how cold it can be on a bike in winter -- it's no wonder tights are popular.

Dutch women wear tights a LOT, under tees, tunics and even dresses. Considering how much biking they do — and how cold it can be on a bike in winter — it’s no wonder tights are popular.

Colorful displays are a norm in Utrecht markets and shopping areas.

Colorful displays are a norm in Utrecht markets and shopping areas.

Not sure I get the fashion sense with these ankle boots, but chaqu'un, son gout.

Not sure I get the fashion sense with these ankle boots, but chaqu’un, son gout.

Stroopwaffels are a national delicacy. They are round, flat, thin waffle-like cookies but both crisp and chewy. They are loaded with butter, sugar and cinammon and are totally addictive.

Stroopwaffels are a national delicacy. They are round, flat, thin waffle-like cookies but both crisp and chewy. They are loaded with butter, sugar and cinnamon and are totally addictive.

Michael is thinking of retiring. Part of his dilemma is, "What's next?" Corinne and I persuaded him to pose with a calliope busker, to demonstrate  his next possible job. These guys stand on the busiest streets, blaring there music (alas, no monkeys wearing bell-cap hats!), shaking brass dishes and "encouraging" passers-by to drop coins into them. Michael looks a natural, no?

Michael is thinking of retiring. Part of his dilemma is, “What’s next?” Corinne and I persuaded him to pose with a calliope busker, to demonstrate his next possible job. These guys stand on the busiest streets, blaring their music (alas, no monkeys wearing bell-cap hats!), shaking brass dishes and “encouraging” passers-by to drop coins into them. Michael looks a natural, no?

And, of course, when you’re tired of people-watching and food-sampling, there’s always a nearby cafe where you can indulge in whatever suits your fancy.

Michael and Corinne outside the "Beer Church," aka Cafe Olivier. (See the 2011 blog)

Michael and Corinne outside the “Beer Church,” aka Cafe Olivier. (See the 2011 blog)


Royals and Flowers in Utrecht

Brushing Shoulders with Dutch Royalty

As Americans, we generally are unimpressed by the concept of royalty and the fanfare that accompanies persons of hereditary stature. But I will confess it was a remarkable occurrence to find myself standing in a crowd, waiting for the King and Queen of the Netherlands to pass by. Michael had returned from work to find me with Corinne, drinking coffee (a very Dutch pastime) and said, excitement reverberating from every democratic gene: “Don’t you know the King and Queen are coming? They’re supposed to pass by just a block from here.”

Caffeinated as we were to the gills, Corinne and I decided to see for ourselves if Michael was hallucinating or whether we were hallucinating Michael. Nope, he was right.  The Dutch version of the Secret Service and the Utrecht police had blocked off about 2 blocks square of vehicular traffic to allow the newly-enthroned royal couple to pass among their subjects in their first “official” visit to Utrecht.  However, the hoi polloi (including us) were allowed to line the streets along which Willem-Alexander and Maxima would stroll, winding their way from one official ceremony to the next royal happening in Utrecht.

Queen Maxima

Queen Maxima

After experiencing almost military-style scanners and shake-downs at presidential inaugurations in recent years, I was quite surprised that here the common people were allowed so close to the king and queen. In fact, both royals walked the sides of the streets, smiling broadly, greeting people, shaking outstretched hands. The king repeatedly thanked people for coming. The queen bee-lined to the smallest children, but I didn’t see any babies being crowd-surfed for royal smackeroos.

King Willem Alexander

King Willem Alexander, as seen from behind, waving to his subjects

It was actually pretty remarkable, as I was about a meter from the king, and I’ve never been within a mile of any of our presidents. Unfortunately, the close-up shot Corinne took of the king was ruined by some guy sticking his bald head in front of the camera. (No, it was not Michael.)

Why the big fuss over this king and queen? Willem-Alexander is the first king of the Netherlands since 1890, his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother having ruled quite nicely as his predecessors for over a century. However – and also in the tradition of her own mother – (former) Queen Beatrix abdicated on April 30, officially to allow a new generation to take over the titular reins.

For years, Willem-Alexander has tried to outgrow his nickname as “Prins Pils,” the moniker he acquired as a hard-partying, beer-swilling, not-so-serious student at the University of Leiden. It is not an image he was fond of, apparently. Since then, he’s cleaned up his jet-set, party-boy image, and developed expertise (I use this loosely) in water management and infrastructure (whatever that means).

His marriage to Argentinian beauty Maxima in 2002 was highly controversial, as her father had been the Agricultural Minister there during that country’s internal “Dirty War” of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  However, Maxima apparently has won over all those stolid, resistant Dutch hearts in the intervening years, first by learning Dutch, then participating in many charity events. One of her most recent publicity stunts occurred this past September, when she donned wetsuit and goggles to swim in Amsterdam’s canals for a charity  fund-raiser for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Event organizers claimed the canal water was the cleanest it had been in years, but I’m not sure I would have swum 2 meters, much less 2 kilometers in that water as Maxima did. What would be worse, the canal in its natural state or after its chemical “treatment” in preparation of the royal bather? I’ll bet she headed right for the Royal Aesthetician for a facial and body scrub after that swill – I mean, “swim.”


Photo credit:

The Flora Hof of Utrecht

I was strolling through central Utrecht the other day and spied a beautiful courtyard next to the Dom, the landmark cathedral tower which symbolizes Utrecht. On previous passes, the heavy iron gates had been closed, preventing even a glimpse of what was inside. Apparently, this beautiful little courtyard, or hof, in Dutch, is a small segment of quite a large nursery and gardens that have been here for a couple hundred years. This lovely little courtyard has been restored and is now opened to the public.


Flora Hof

On the interior walls of the courtyard, however, are stone reliefs which are quite violent and in conflict with the peacefulness of the flowery oasis. Various reliefs depict a child being dismembered, a bishop’s hand being devoured, and a person about to be bludgeoned with a truncheon. I couldn’t find much information on line about these stone sculptures. Sketchy sources said they depicted scenes from the life of St. Martin, the patron saint of Utrecht, or of St. Willibrord, the first bishop of Utrecht.  And while St. Willibrord had been in northern Netherlands, as well as Utrecht, I couldn’t find any specific tales that correlated with these stone reliefs, although he and his merry band of disciples did have some violent run-ins with local pagans.

Child Mutilation

Child Mutilation


Nonetheless, the little courtyard serves as a pleasant oasis and place to sit for a bit of respite outside the bustle of one of Utrecht’s busiest byways.

Another angle of the flower courtyard with the Dom toren looming in the background.

Another angle of the flower courtyard with the Dom toren looming in the background.

And, in final sign-off, a view of the Dom as it towers over the Oudegracht, or “Old Canal.”


Back in the U-T-R-E-C-H-T

The Oudegracht, near our apartment

Canals, bells tolling the hours, the Dom Tower itself soaring above stepped gables, cafés on canals or crowding every scrap of pavement – even if part of that’s the street – and bicycles everywhere, yup, we’re back in Utrecht!

When we left Utrecht in the Netherlands last August, Michael and I never thought we’d miss Holland and the Dutch as much as we did the first couple of weeks.  But, in truth, we became so quickly re-acclimated to the car-based, job-focused frenzy of the U.S. that the slower-paced Dutch culture soon seemed very distant.  So I was surprised how quickly we re-acclimated to Utrecht.

After three weeks on the road, mostly in Eastern Europe, we found ourselves in a new apartment in a new section of Utrecht’s old center, and sitting at a sunny outdoor café overlooking the Oudegracht, Utrecht’s 13th century canal.  I was in heaven.  I just had forgotten where heen was.  The Dom tolled, I sighed in contentment, and Michael just looked at me, saying, “You really love it here, don’t you?”

You betcha!

The Dom tower of Utrecht

That was a month ago, and, yes, I am seriously back-logged with this blog.  But time flies.  The past month has sped by, with Michael busy teaching at the medical school, and me readjusting to life here.  We are staying in a very small two room apartment of about 600 square feet total.  Most people I know in the States have garages twice that size.  But we manage quite well. Probably the most difficult aspect in down-sizing from a five bedroom (plus full attic dorm) house was going from a larger than standard U.S. refrigerator/freezer to a dorm-sized teensy little fridge.  But, with two full service food stores (well, Dutch full service!) and one fruit and vegetable grocer all within 300 feet, daily shopping is not an issue.  Oh, and we also have on the same block as the above a butcher/deli, two bakeries, a fish store, a cheese store, three wine shops and a “bierhuis.”  Plus a bunch of cafés and drinking establishments.  And the canal is 40 feet from our front door. I absolutely love it.  Eat your heart out!

Our Bedroom

Another angle on the bedroom

Living, Dining, and everything-else room

The kitchen and “dining room”

Our “street”, Wijde Watersteeg, as seen from across the Oudegract (old canal). Our place is the lower apartment in the yellow building in the middle of the photo, a very old building.  Notice how part of its facade leans out, another back.

Part of the great fun has been reconnecting with our good friends Corinne and Martin.  A few of you met them when they visited us at Thanksgiving this past year.  For those who didn’t: Corinne van Bergen is the Dutch sculptor I wrote about last year.  Some of you saw the glass sculpture she made for us in the house we were renting this past year on Mountain Road.  We’ve spent many nights with them, meeting new people, greeting old friends, having a good time.  Martin and Michael share similar wacky humors so the two of them are usually doing something amusing.

Michael and Martin, at it again! I’ve no idea where Martin got this sheepskin “hat” or why Michael’s wearing it!

Also part of the fun lately has been watching the Dutch national football team in the warm-ups to, and then competing in, the Europe Cup 2012.  The Dutch did great in a warm-up game, bowling over the Irish, then completely bombed in their division of the Europe Cup.  So they are totally out of the race.  Meanwhile, Utrecht, as most of Holland, has been displaying orange, the national color, all over the place.  In particular, I’ve been amused at some of the orange paraphernalia.  Have a look:

The Lion is the symbol of the Netherlands. Storefronts like this one displayed victorious lions and people large and small sported orange lion manes.

Corinne sporting the orange lion’s mane and some (fake) tattoos


One excursion with Corinne and Martin was to an Indonesian cultural heritage festival in a nearby town.  Two of Corinne’s 9 siblings (yes, 10 kids in that family!) are married to Indonesian-Dutch.  For about 500 years Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands, only reaching independence after WWII.  The ties between the two countries, however, remain, and over the last century thousands of Indonesians immigrated to Holland and inter-married with the Dutch. (Whew!   I hope you all appreciate such a condensed history in two sentences!)

Anyway…the results of this old relationship resulted in some interesting contrasts at the festival.  For starters, Indonesia is a VERY hot country, with about half of the country (scattered over several islands, large and small)  bisected by the equator.  The day we went to the festival, it was so cold, I was wearing my long underwear, brought in anticipation of cold days in Sweden…and I was still cold.  Upon arrival at the festival, the first cultural event we saw was a couple of very blonde dancers, male and female, attempting (badly) to perform Balinese dances.  Having seen the originals (Balinese people and dances) several times, I wanted to alternate between screaming and laughing.

Here’s the next scene of cultural dissonance:  Indonesian festival, in a bar decorated with red Chinese lanterns, a small crowd being entertained by Indonesian performers  twanging on electric guitars, singing American country music in English (of course!  Ever heard such music in Dutch or German?).  In the audience,  Dutch (except us two), several people were munching frites with mayonnaise, then a few women jumped up and started country line dancing in front of the musical trio, while one elderly lady proudly waved her battery-powered glittery-red heart on a wand.

I kid you not.  Total cultural dissonance.

Line dancing to country music

The white blip on the wand was actually a glitter-red, battery-powered heart.

Chinese lanterns at an Indonesian festival in Holland

In the past month, we’ve taken a couple of side trips, but I’ll describe those in a later blog.  This year my postings have been rather lengthy, so I’ll give my faithful readers a break and keep this one short on words and big on pictures.


A typical alley in the old section of Utrecht where we live.

Traditionally, Dutch stores are closed on Sunday and don’t reopen until about 1 p.m. on Monday. Even within the last year I’ve noticed more stores are open on Sunday, perhaps in response to consumer demand, or perhaps due to this clever and very Dutch advertising campaign, encouraging business to open on Sundays. I walked out of our apartment on a Sunday recently to see every parked bicycle within sight with this bright seat cover, urging Sunday business openings. How better to make a point than provide a bicycle-riding society with plastic seat covers in this rain-drenched country?

Every space used: an alley here is used as a bicycle rental place.

Europe has a different and in my mind healthy attitude about pets. It’s common to see a cat basking as this one in a store’s bay window or wandering around customers in  cafes. I even spotted a cat luxuriously
 stretched out on a table inside a cafe between two patrons, both of whom were petting her while conversing. And cafe patrons routinely bring their dogs with them, even inside.

Cultural Adjustments

Cultural Differences Can Be More Than Amusing

Michael and I have been living in the Netherlands for nearly five weeks now and we’ve become accustomed to the essentials: we watch out for speed demon bicyclists – they’re everywhere!; we can easily distinguish between the 1- and 2-Euro coins; and we can read the European
train time tables with relative ease and little mishap (no small feat!) However – and you knew that was coming – there are a number of cultural differences that we’ve noted. Some are amusing, some perplexing or frustrating, others – being Dutch – eminently practical — yet most have added to our ultimate enjoyment of living in the Netherlands.

The practical

Cash, not credit, is king. I was warned to have plenty of cash on hand, as many stores will not accept credit cards, and what a useful tip that was. Like most Americans, I was accustomed to paying for virtually everything by credit card: groceries, gas, haircuts, vet bills, movie tickets.

Not here. Grocery stores won’t take credit, and most other stores won’t either.  And where they do, there can be a hefty fee tacked on for using credit. For example, our initial hotel bill would have been 15% higher if we’d charged it.  So having cash on hand is essential, and probably better in terms of not over-extending yourself. And, of course, geldermats (ATMs) are ubiquitous.


The public urinal.  I’d grown up with seeing public urinals in France, so I was quick to recognize in them in Amsterdam and Utrecht. I also noticed that as in the one pictured below, they are often situated near large bars and cafés. Michael pointed out an oddity, though. He said that when he goes into men’s restrooms in restaurants, there are no urinals, but individual, completely enclosed toilet stalls. So, here’s the dichotomy: open air urinals which leave little to the imagination as to what the guy is doing, and, the completely closed off little pooping-and-pissing cabana.

Go figure!

He's not just singing in the rain...

There had to be something I didn’t like!

No ice, no free water. Water is not served automatically in restaurants, and when requesting water, your choices “with gas” or “without gas” — but “no charge” is not an option. In fact, a small bottle of water can cost  as much as a glass of beer. What is also remarkable (to me), is that the bottled water is rarely cold, and even more scarce are ice cubes. The eating and drinking establishments as a whole almost never serve you any drinks – water, sodas, tea, etc. – with ice in them.
And a couple of times when I have received my pricey bottle of water, the
accompanying glass had one, lone ice cube in it. One ice cube.

People who know me well are aware that I drink a lot of ice water. And I mean ice-cold water, as in filled-with-ice-cubes cold water. So, I have to admit, no ice and no free water has been a cultural adjustment for me. Solution? I went out and bought two icecube trays.

The charming

Hanging out is a national occupation.
Everyone knows that Americans work way too much. We work ridiculous hours, and in some professions the 60 hour+ workweek is de rigeur.
Contrast this idiotic workaholic predilection with the Dutch: does anyone work an 8-hour day? From about 11 a.m. until after 9 p.m. cafés and restaurants are packed with people, especially if it’s a nice day out. On a sunny day, outdoor lounge space is at a premium. In fact, I wonder where the restaurants store all their tables and chairs when it’s raining. Perhaps they have the opposite of a giant dehydration machine: when the sun’s out or the temperature rises above 18°C (65°F), café tables and chairs mushroom out of the sidewalks and plazas as people come flocking. And what’s really nice is the relaxed attitude of the servers: you want to nurse one cup of coffee or one small beer for the next 2 hours – no problem!

And people especially love to hang out by the Oude Gracht (Old Canal) in Utrecht for both drinks and dinner.

Michael is at lower right in blue shirt, back to camera.

Plaze with about 7 cafes near where we live
















Street performances. Nearly all of the street performances we’ve seen have been in Amsterdam, and they have ranged from amazingly good to the truly awful. In fact, one singer and her accompanying keyboardist were so bad that the café patrons didn’t just ignore them, they booed them. Tough audience!   Probably the most delightful “street” performance was by a 20-odd person orchestra on a train station in Breda. Totally an unexpected surprise. Betcha you’ve never seen that in the States!

Here’s a few performance “artists” from Amsterdam:

I wanted to scream after watching this guy for several minutes

Break dancing on the Leidesplein

If you can figure out what these guys were doing, you get a banana!

Brazilian Martial Arts -- these guys were flying!










The three-kiss greeting. The traditional Dutch greeting among friends
is three pecks on alternating cheeks. No one can explain why or how this customcame about, and why three kisses. But this is the normal greeting  among friendsupon arrival and departure.


Only in the Netherlands…

Parking violations are taken way too seriously!

We happened upon a vehicle being towed at the Nieuwe Markt plaza in Amsterdam. Given the narrow streets, Dutch have developed a unique method of hauling away vehiclesvthat are broken down, in accidents, or – as in this case – illegally parked.

And the fines for leaving your car in a no parking zone?
According to one of the policemen at this scene, the parking fine is about €70, plus another €400 for the tow fees, and then another €50 per day for each day your impounded vehicle is unclaimed. And, he added, if you try to abandon your vehicle, the city will sell it and keep the money, but you will still owe all the accumulated fines. Citizens will be tracked down to pay up and tourists can’t leave the country until they settle their fines. Good incentive to own a bicycle.


In a city with about 100 kilometers of canals…..

If you think about it, having a DHL delivery boat in Amsterdam
makes a whole lot of sense!


And the real whopper: the “Code Blue” bicycle.  Yup.
Michael went with his medical students for a tour of the ER at the
University of Utrecht hospital. The physician giving the tour pointed out a
bicycle with little cart attachments. She explained that whenever a “code blue” (cardiac arrest) occurred in the hospital, one of the ER physicians  hops on the bike and “pedal like crazy” to get to the afflicted patient, crash cart and all.

I wish he’d gotten a picture…

That’s all for now!

Ladies in Windows

Michael and I have been in the Netherlands now for four weeks.  During much of that time, Michael has been wondering to his increasing bewilderment, “Where is Utrecht’s red light district?”  (In case you don’t
remember an earlier blog, our apartment is located – so we were told – on “the edge” of the red light district.”

In Amsterdam the red light district is hard to miss once you’re in the midst of it. There are both neon-lit and colorfully painted signs advertising brothels, sex shops, head shops, and even an Erotic Museum.  What most people do not know is that Amsterdam’s red light district has been ensconced in the central area of the old city since the 14th century.  Yep. Over 700 years. And, yet, throughout the centuries, the district has always thrived with families, tradesmen and business living cheek to jowl with the brothels and bars.  In fact, my guide book says the area was so full of rich folks, that this stretch of canals and streets was known as the “Velvet  Canal”.  While the area may not be quite so prosperous now — prostitution is now controlled by the government – every block will have at least one establishment with huge, ground-level windows in which the ladies display themselves to attract potential customers.  However, because it is so mixed in with business, bars, restaurants and dwellings, the windows’
interiors sometimes aren’t visible until you are literally standing in front of
one of them.

Oh – just to set the record straight, the triple-X flags all over Amsterdam aren’t advertisingthe location of brothels or sex shops.  The red flag with the three white crosses of St. Andrew on a black band is the emblem for Amsterdam and thus the city’s flag.

Nearly an Incident

Having now spent four days in Amsterdam – it’s a quick 25 minutes by train from Utrecht – I’ve become pretty good at navigating through the city.  A few days ago I managed to get five of us through the warren of side streets to several destinations, one of which was the red light district.  It seems like the three people with us, Matt & Caralynn and Veronica, all visiting medical professionals from the States, hadn’t been to Amsterdam before but all had heard of the famous red light district.  And of course, everyone wanted to go to the most sought-after tourist destination in the city.  We are, after all, tourists.

Let me point out something I have learned here:  there is a certain
etiquette that is intrinsic to the red light district.  No native of Amsterdam stops and gawks at the scantily clad women lounging, standing, preening, reading or whatever in their individual display windows.  For Amsterdammers, it’s just business as usual.  Tourists on the other hand, tend to come to an abrupt standstill, point open-mouthed, giggle, turn red, throw elbows at each other and otherwise make fools of themselves.  For the most part, the ladies just ignore these ignoramuses, but there is one activity that incenses the ladies – and their brothel’s bouncer:  taking pictures.

I can understand this.
Who wants to be made fun of or belittled?  And the guidebooks warn you:   you start snapping pictures of the ladies in the windows, the bouncers or ladies themselves may rough up the witless tourists, and smash their cameras in their fury or toss them in the nearest canal.

So it was with major trepidation I suddenly hear behind me one of our merry band loudly exclaim in sudden revelation: “What?  This is the red light district?  Oh, I gotta get a picture of this!”

I whipped around and hollered, “No!  No pictures!  Stop!”  I had visions of our group being rushed by half naked women and Turkish bouncers and pricey smart phones and digital cameras summarily tossed into the nearest canal.

Thankfully, she did stop.  I explained how taking pictures was considered a gaffe, at best, all the while eyeing some tough looking men lounging under nearby brothel windows and scowling at us:  the bouncers.

So, we did what everyone does:  stand at a distance and pretend to take
pictures of scenic canals amid throngs of gawking tourists while hoping to catch in the frame — at long distance — at least one of Amsterdam’s “window ladies”.  The rest of the day went without incident.

Back in Utrecht

So, back to Utrecht.   Where was the red light district?

To be sure, it couldn’t possibly be the size of Amsterdam’s, but still.  Turns out, it’s similar to Amsterdam’s, albeit smaller by far:  all mixed in with family dwellings, general shops and restaurants.

Last week I found it, purely by accident, ambling down a narrow side street I’d walked upon a couple of times before.  A twitch of movement caught the corner of my eye and I turned my head to find a red head in a bikini with garters and fishnet stockings lounging on a chaise in a large picture window.  Bingo.
As I gazed up and down the street, I realized that about half the
establishments had the oversized, ground level windows and there was a tough looking, muscular guy hanging out by himself about half way down the street – all of which should have given me a clue.  At a little after noon, about a fourth of the windows were occupied, the others had interior curtains drawn over them.  It also dawned on me that the earlier times I’d walked this street, it had been on my early morning excursions to the local supermarket, way too early for the women to be on display.

I looked up to check the name of the street so I could later identify for Michael which of the tiny side streets the red light district was on.  I started laughing out loud and just had to take a picture.  I think you will all agree with me that a street name has seldom been so descriptive:


And here’s a look at Hardebollenstraat in the morning, about the only time it is safe to take pictures:

Hardebollenstraat in early morning -- deserted and window curtains closed

Ladies' "advertizing" windows

Setting Up House in Utrecht

We have now been in the Netherlands two weeks.   About 6 days ago, we moved from “The Cave”, our initial hotel-apartment, to our “semi-permanent” apartment at Wijde Begijnestraat 86.  Translated, that means we live at apartment number 86 on the street called Wijde Begijnestraat.

However, since we arrived 14 days ago, we’ve visited a number of cities.  As I write, I’m in a hotel room in a lovely sea-side town called Egmond aan Zee (pronounced  ”Eckhht-mand on Zay”) where we are attending a conference for Dutch emergency medicine physicians. Michael gave his excellent paper today and it seemed well-received.

Okay, back to the street and apartment where we live.  Like many streets in Utrecht, it doesn’t go in a straight line, but this one, Wijde Begijnestraat, takes the cake:  it is V-shaped.  So in this picture…

…the white building with the awning in the middle actually is the tip of the “V”, and Wijde Begijnestraat goes up both the left and right side from that point.  We actually live on the left side of the V, opposite those two turquoise balconies you can see in the distance.

Confusing as this dual-directional street can be it is additionally confounding because several streets in the immediate vicinity have the unpronounceable “Begijnestraat” as partof their name. Hence:

And there are a couple more:

I received some weird looks taking photos of street signs, let me tell you.

On to the interior of our apartment.  It is comfy and pretty adequate for two people and by Dutch standards, a pretty roomy 1-bedroom flat.  (Technically it’s a 2-bedroom but you couldn’t fit a bed into the second one, maybe a crib if you took everything else out.)  Here’s a view of the right side of the living room.  The open door (notice the door prop) leads to the front hall, bedroom(s) and bath.  In the foreground is the dining room table which I use as my desk.

Here is the left side of the living room, also showing our little balcony.  The room has a great deal of natural light, which is quite lovely, but it is a fairly small space.  Anyone who comes to visit would either have to squeeze onto one of the loveseats or sleep on the floor and risk getting stepped on by Michael when he strolls in to make his a.m. coffee.

and the kitchenette, contiguous to the dining area: 

and finally, our bed – which takes up 99% of the “master” bedroom, or “kamer”:

and the so-called “2nd kamer”:

So, any of you planning on coming for a visit, plan on bringing a sleeping bag!

So, where’s the Red Light District?

This is what Michael keeps asking…every day.  Neither one of us has figured that one out yet.  Or if there really is one in Utrecht, we sure aren’t living in or on the edge of it as far as we can tell.  Unlike Amsterdam, there are no half-naked women posing in broad windows, nor are there provocative signs advertising women, boys or toys.  (Well, I guess there a couple of small sex shops, a couple of streets over, but I honestly didn’t notice them until going over pictures.  They are that unobtrusive and innocuous.)  But we do have a couple of head shops, aka the local “coffee house”.)

When we return to Utrecht this weekend, I will finish up the next installment.  Until then, it’s happy living and train-hopping in the Netherlands!

Lessons Learned in Amsterdam

Speeding up the Learning Curve…

… essential skill or accomplishment if you want to survive a block on foot in Amsterdam!

Michael and I just returned from a hectic 2-day whirl through Amsterdam.  In many respects, Michael would say it’s a miracle I’m here to relate our experiences, given the number of near-misses I’ve/we’ve had in less than 48 hours.  In the parlance of business meetings and lecture halls, the “take aways” from our mini-trip are:

  1. Never, never, never step out of a “safe” pedestrian zone without checking and rechecking in all directions for tram, bus, car and – above all! – bicycle traffic.
  2. Cobblestones can cripple or maim you.
  3. Potholes are not a phenomenon of modern sidewalks and roadways;  i.e., cobblestones and pavers can be dislodged, creating little potholes just big enough for a size 7 ½ shoe to trip over.
  4. “Gawking while walking” is NOT okay.  Not only do you look stupid, you stand a better than 90% chance of screwing up learning point #1.  Need I say more?  Gawk only if seated in a café, bus, canal
    boat or propped up against a solid wall, preferably one that’s been standing at least 200 years so you know it won’t collapse under you.  Note: gawking while leaning against a less than 3-foot canal railing (where they exist) is not a good move, either. Not unless you are less than 3-foot, six inches or have a hankering to swim in the canal.
  5. Final caveat: If you’ve been drinking or imbibing in other available substances, your odds of tripping, falling or getting pulverized by some form of speeding vehicle on 2-, 3-, 4- or other multiple wheels goes straight to 100% if you don’t scrupulously follow numbers

Okay, since I’m writing this from the relative safety of our new apartment in Utrecht, I’ve obviously survived my first adult experience in
Amsterdam.  (Get your minds out of the gutter, my friends.  The last time I was in Amsterdam I was only 8 ½!  The “worst” I did in Amsterdam the last two days was drink two Jaegermeister shooters.  More on that later.)

Now that the safety stuff is out of the way, here are some more thoughts on Amsterdam:

  1. Michael would gladly move here in a heartbeat if
    offered a position.  He might even work
    for free.  As you can see, he’s already
    checking out the real estate:

Anyone recognize the plants on either side of Michael?  And he IS in front of a real estate office, not a “coffee shop”!

2. Amsterdam is awash in canals and bikes.  The city has several multi-story garages for bicycles only.  I kid you not.  Here’s a 4-level garage for just bikes at the central rail station.

We saw several such bicycle garages
in Amsterdam, as well as the standard “parking” of bikes against any lamppost,
gutter spout or rail, often 3 to 5 bikes deep.

And, speaking of bicycles being “awash” and “deep”,
Amsterdam has about 100 kilometers of canals, most of which do not have railings  along the banks.  Therefore, having happy bikers roll into the canals is a frequent and daily occurrence.  For that matter, an average of one car a week ends up in a canal.  With space at a premium throughout the Netherlands, bikes and cars squeeze into “parking” wherever the driver-operator perceives a space to be had, often within inches of the drink. 

IMHO, I would venture to suggest that the
frequency of bikers and auto drivers ending up in the canal has a lot more to do with the amount of substances consumed by the drivers than their observational or parking skills.  Or maybe better phrasing: it’s a matter of substances consumed impairing skills of any sort….

3. Amsterdam is not completely a biker’s paradise. In fact, bikes are at the heart of this beautiful city’s hottest crime wave:  60,000 bicycles per year are stolen in this city of 700,000.  You do the math.  Seriously, bike theft is the number one crime issue in Amsterdam (albeit a relatively innocuous one unless it’s your bike!).  Hello, police departments everywhere in the
U.S.? Have you checked your crime stats recently?  And, no, the Amsterdam P.D. is not taking foreign applicants right now.

4.  Amsterdam is a very happy city.  In fact, we learned that a recent study found that the Dutch, in general, are the happiest people in Europe, if not  the world.  The Dutch scored the highest on all kinds of “wellness”, “wellbeing” and “satisfaction” criteria, and from what I’ve experienced so far, the study is right on target.  Moreover, the “happy factor” extends to
expats who have chosen to live in the Netherlands.  We fell in with a bunch of friendly expats courtesy of our friend and medical compeñero, Terry Mulligan, who lived here for four years and, being a gregarious guy himself, made a lot of Dutch and expat friends alike.  Here we are with
some of them at a café in Amsterdam:

From the left:  Renée Mennie, 8 ¾ months pregnant, who is Dutch; her British husband, Stuart; Michael (notice the happy grin and the empty Heineken glass); and Terry Mulligan (American, and not yet so happy because his food’s late and he hasn’t drunk his beer). Special note:  the author wasn’t drinking anything stronger than coffee at this point, hence the clarity of the picture.

During the course of the afternoon and going into the evening, various other expats joined us at one café or another:  Allen, another Brit; Zach, a Canadian; and Richard, an Aussie. There’s a reason for giving their genealogy; continue reading.

5.  Beware of drinking with expats from the former British Empire.  And never, never, never think you can even keep up with them.  And besting a Brit or Aussie at swilling beer?  Fegeddaboutit!  Having learned those lessons eons ago, I stuck to wine with bottles of water chaser. Until about 11 p.m.  Ah, yes.  That’s where the Jaegermeister came in.  Michael and I wisely had our two shooters and hightailed it out the door to the relative safety of the streets.  And our hotel.

6.  Other “happy” factors from Amsterdam.  (Warning: the author personally hasn’t tried any of the following and can’t vouch for authenticity of any of these factors truly making one happy.)

When you travel in England, a striking observation is the number of pubs scattered throughout the cities and country towns, about one every block or so. The Brits refer to either the closest pub or their favorite,
within-walking-distance pub as their “local” (for obvious reasons, it must be walkable).  Amsterdam isn’t shy on establishments offering alcoholic beverages (but they’ve adopted the cooler French “café” nomenclature).  But the true “local” establishments here are the coffee shops, where one can purchase small amounts of marijuana for consumption on the premises.  Those you can find on nearly every block throughout downtown Amsterdam, thus contributing to the continued state of happiness of the Dutch people. At least, the people we observed lounging around in the coffee shops looked rather happy, if in a dreamy, zoned-out way. The Bulldog claims to be the oldest coffee shop in Amsterdam, begotten way back in 1975:

However, I was told that there were other coffee shops prior to this Bull Dog.  Supposedly, the original coffee shop was housed in a police station.  Talk about have the cops keeping a close watch on the action. Does this mean they had substations in the whore houses?

Renée and Stuart Mennie live on the edge of the Red Light District in Amsterdam, so in all our comings and goings and to-ings and fro-ings Michael and I saw quite a lot of the wares on display, as well as all the various establishments that sell the assistive accoutrements
of the world’s oldest act, whether performed by professionals or hapless
amateurs.  (OK, for the country hicks among you, I’m talking about the sex  shops, dummies!)

Being a good little tourist, I did not photograph any of the ladies in their windows or even the colorfully enticing door signs of their establishments.
Apparently, this is frowned upon and actively acted upon, as in you
could be relieved of your camera by an enraged madam/monsieur or the
establishment bouncer.  But I did sneak a photo of this unique little sign that was stuck in the corner of the door to one of the smaller assistive devices shops:
And now for the real reason we’re in the Netherlands….

Michael and Terry Mulligan have been working quite hard on their lecture series for the medical school class they are teaching.  Terry, who first taught this class a few years ago, will be here for another week, then returns to the States, where he’s a colleague of Michael’s at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  The class they are teaching is for
second-year students, who have had little, if any, clinical experience, so to
have two experienced, high-powered clinicians giving them the scoop on real emergency medicine as practiced in the real world is rather thrilling.  At least none of them has fallen asleep yet.

On the other hand, teaching this class hasn’t exactly been a hardship for the two of them either.  Michael came home positively glowing after the first day.  Out of 29 students, all but about 4 were women and, to use his words, “they’re ALL BEAUTIFUL!”

Need I say more?

In all seriousness, Terry and Michael have their work cut out for them.
In this coming week they will meet with the Minister of Health for the
Netherlands; a representative from the U.S. Department of State with an interest in international health; and, Michael will be delivering a paper at the Dutch national convention for emergency physicians near Rotterdam.  And that’s just next week.  The goal is to help expand the University of
Maryland’s Emergency Department’s interests in international medicine – so it would seem they are off to an auspicious start!

So, stay tuned to future updates
from Michael and Carol!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

P.S.  Yesterday, as I was completing an earlier
section, our new friend Stuart Mennie, who had come back to Utrecht to carry on
the party, had arrived at our new apartment with Terry to initiate our first
happy hour in our new abode.  Stuart read over my shoulder with interest my quip, “Beware of drinking with expats from the former British Empire”, laughed and walked away muttering something about, “You would have to rub it in about the ‘former’ British Empire”!

Later on, in a continuation of expat British pride, Stuart tried to convince me (tongue in cheek) that the U.S. had not won the revolutionary war against the mother country.  As we bickered over that absurdity, I
reminded him we beat the pants off the Brits a second time in the war of 1812, which he also denied. To add ballast to the sinking ship of his claims, he finally countered that the land the White House is on is actually owned by Canada, formerly of the British Empire.  At that point I gave up the argument and we decamped to another café.  Anyone want to comment on that charge?