Monday, May 15, 2017

The Netherlands

Delft, Netherlands

Back in 2012, I visited the Netherlands as the first stage of my PhD journey as part of a multi-year multi-institute project on Sanitation for the Urban Poor in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia (quite a mouthful)! It was led by UNESCO-IHE which is based in Delft. I didn't have much time to go sightseeing as we were holding a week-long project kickoff meeting, but I do remember a few highlights. My first impression on walking around was that I had suddenly entered a land of GIANTS. Given that I am only five feet tall, and Dutch men and women rank as the tallest and second tallest in the world respectively that is not surprising, but I really felt a bit like Gulliver in Brobdingnag at times. 

Some of the things that I really enjoyed during my week-long visit were bicycle friendly infrastructure, beautiful architecture, maatjesharing and polite people. Bicycles are a very common mode of transport in most of the Netherlands it seems. Roads are designed with dedicated bicycle lanes and traffic signals, and drivers are very conscious of cyclists. There are also bicycle racks everywhere and plenty of places to buy bicycles, parts and accessories. Even in the rain many of people could be seen cycling, with groceries in side hanging pouches and children in tow.

Photo credit: Amsterdamized on Flickr

The Dutch architecture with row houses and lovely little detailing around the roof was also very charming, particularly given that the city was built around a canal.

Photo credit: Planetware
One fun experience that we had as a research team was getting one of my fellow PhD students, Sam, to try maatjesharing (soused herring). He had never had raw fish before, and was a little bit squeamish about it, but in the end he tried it and even ate it the "Dutch way".  Unfortunately, I seem to have lost all of my photos from that trip between changing phones and my external hard drive failing on me, but it looked something like this:

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Everyone we encountered was unfailingly polite and spoke impeccable English. I'm not sure if this was a factor of being so close Den Haag (The Hague) where the UN holds the International Criminal Court, but people definitely seemed used to encountering people from all over the world. 

My main complaint, which is more of an observation, is that like most of Western Europe, the Netherlands was very expensive. Fortunately, I received S&T from my university while I was there, and my flight and accommodation were paid for. Otherwise, it would have been a very expensive trip for anyone on a student budget to make. My favorite kind of travel is when someone else pays for it ;o). 

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