i think i’ve figured out part of what it is i like so much about the Dutch. You see, if you look around the houses here, the architecture, you will see that the majority of windows are very high, in the room (they frequently go up to the ceiling of the room, rather than stopping a bit short of the ceiling as windows in English homes do (all i have to compare it with really). in addition, there seems to be .. i dunno how to explain it, an expectation of privacy. Many people have their curtains open, no net curtains, both at night and during the day, even when the main rooms face onto a main road. the gardens are open to people walking by, and while people might look if they see a neighbour they know in the garden and say hello, there is the expectation of privacy further into the house, regardless of whether you can actually see in. For example, Michiel’s parents house has a footpath between the canal and the garden, a public footpath, that runs from the main road (that ends at the footpath) behind all the houses that back onto that canal, and Michiel’s Uncle and Aunt (who we went to visit today), their new house backs onto a public park, but instead of the end of the garden being marked by a fence, its marked by some very low bushes (so low you could easily step over or walk through them).. and that is it. from the house it is lovely, being able to look out over the park, but people can easily see into their garden and say hello. its a strange way to live and one i would find quite difficult to get my head around. Having said that, space is at a premium here in the Netherlands and so people do live rather ontop of each other, the houses tend to be maximised downstairs with relatively small sleeping rooms. its a very different mindset, a different way to live, i think, and perhaps more community minded.

As i said earlier we visited Michiel’s Uncle and Aunt today (if you’re reading this, B, Hi there!). It was an adventure and a half getting there – we caught a bus to Alphen aan den Rijn, wandered around the shops there, including lunch (fries and dutch mayo, more about that in a minute), then found the train station (it didn’t help that they had moved the bus station since Michiel was last here – most inconsiderate, as Michiel pointed out, at length, and loudly!) to discover that they had also changed the train so that the train station we were going to get off at, even though it is on the same line as Alphen aan den Rijn (pronounced – i think – Al-fen aa-an den Ree-gen), it no longer stops there on the way to Utrecht. You have to stop at a previous train station then get another train to this station. ARgh. so we go from Alphen to Woeden (pronounced veurden), then another train from Woeden to Vlueten where Michiel’s Aunt picked us up in their car. They actually live in Maarssen (I spelled it wrong last night) but Vlueten is about as near to them as Maarssen station is and Vlueten is marginally easier for us to get to.

We had a lovely evening chatting away with Michiel’s Uncle and Aunt and their two children, a 16 year old lad who has grown so *much* since i last saw him, and who speaks really good English, and a lovely 14 year old girl. We got to meet their two cats (I got photos of one of them, who loves to sit at the table, or walk along the backs of the dining chairs as we eat!) and their happy go lucky little King Charles Spaniel. They’d just come back from holiday themselves, they’d gone to Italy, to visit Rome and Pompeii (lucky things), as well as a few other places – the Vatican, the adriatic coast, Vesuvius of course. I got to see the holiday snaps and there were some lovely photos there… i would love to visit there myself one day.

Oh… the food. If you’ve never visited the Netherlands, and you do go, get some chips at some point and ask for mayo. Trust Me.. ask for mayo. the mayo there is smooth, rich, heavier on the mustard than Hellman’s, but.. oh god.. it tastes absolutely fandabiedoziefantasticmeltinthemouthgorgeous with chips. if i eat nothing else here i would be happy with chips and mayo (that reminds me, must pick up a jar of the stuff at the supermarket). There are other wonderful things here to eat as well (and i’ll probably tell you about a lot of them) but.. trust me. chips and mayo. lol.

Dinner at the Uncle and Aunt’s home was lovely: starter with smoked salmon, smoked eel, a sauce (I’m not sure what it was, i should’ve asked, but it was lovely – Michiel reckons garlic sauce) and salad. I’ve only ever had smoked eel here in the Netherlands, and i wasn’t very sure at first but its definetly an acquired taste, but one i’ve come to love. the main course was chicken pieces – wings, legs, thighs – in three flavours, spicy chicken, tandoori chicken and … some kind of indonesian flavoured chicken. More chips, home cooked this time, and more mayo (oh no.. not more chips/mayo!!). Chocolate icecream finished it all off – that, and reebibos tea with chocolate. yum.

Michiel’s parents are away over the weekend – they have gone to stay with Michiel’s grandmother in preparation for a party there on saturday for Michiel’s Dad’s birthday – so we have the house to ourselves tomorrow – yay! – and i get to take over the kitchen – double yay! – and we’re going food shopping – triple yay! – so i is a happy bunny!

Photos today include breakfast (which i described last night), dutch architecture, the cute cat at Michiel’s Uncle/Aunt’s home, and a few shots of their garden too. I even took some of the train – they have double decker trains here! – and Michiel threatened to disown me – he gets fed up with me playing tourist sometimes. But i think he would be upset if i lost my sense of wonder at this country, at discovering new things about his homeland, a sort of.. i dunno. joie de vive.. when you see someone else discovering your country and you see it through their eyes its something quite special…