Not every day was gray while traveling in Holland – no, we saw the sun break through layers of fog on our way to Texel island, we saw the sun rise like a fire ball out of the North Sea, did a walking tour through modern Rotterdam on a sunny afternoon and ended the Dutch part of our trip in picturesque Delft, strolling along canals and sipping hot chocolate on the sun- soaked market square that by now will have been turned into an ice rink. Christmas season in Holland starts long before Thanksgiving.  –  My daughter Milena was location scouting for her next film and I went along to discover a country that I grew up next to, had visited a few times without feeling attracted to it. As a North German I always traveled south to Greece, Spain, Italy, France where you not only would find the sun but also great food and attractive people. Dutch people are tall and strong. They seem to be sure of themselves, don’t need to throw around compliments, are not used to thank or being thanked for every move. The women are considered to be among the happiest in the world. Highlights of the Dutch cuisine are French fries with mayo and catch-up —not my food of choice – and herring, delicious when eaten fresh in May or June, not available in restaurants in November, not even previously frozen. In Rotterdam we found the best food in Turkish restaurants and there are plenty, like in Berlin. The two cities seem to have much more in common than good Turkish food – both, badly destroyed during WW2, still have neighborhoods that survived the war and preserved their old charm, but many quarters were replaced by “Wohnblöcke” reminiscent of East Berliner “Plattenbau” or by glass and steel constructions of exciting designs. Don’t miss the “Markthal”, colorful, busy, with huge round entrance gates, Rem Koolhaas’s glass cubes next to the Erasmus bridge, and  the “Centraal Station” an amazing design with angled sharp lines turning into bends and points, walls made of metal rippled like water, and inside a huge video projection of life at Rotterdam’s harbor, the busiest in the world. Rotterdam seems to be a city in motion, walking around downtown made me feel a little seasick, like being on a ship with a heavy cargo full of surprises.

Fifteen minutes away from Rotterdam is Delft, a charming old town of canals lined by  trees (and cars – not like Venice), picturesque bridges hardly made for cars, and houses, narrow and high, with stairscases so steep and barely anything to hold on to that walking upstairs feels like climbing a dutch mountain. How do old people move around in those houses, which are all over Amsterdam and The Hague as well. Vermeer had the luxury of living in his mother in law’s large house with eight rooms on the first floor. Were there steep stairs to the upper floors? He had 15 children, four died before being baptized but 11 grew up around him while he was painting  in his atelier, the front room on the second floor. The house was destroyed and eventually replaced by a building with a tourist shop where Vermeer’s paintings decorate posters, eye-glass cleaners, table clothes napkins and, if you want, your own face with blue scarf and pearl earring.

Delft’s porcelain factory was closed on Sunday. No blue and white plates for me this time, but I will be back since there is so much more to discover in Holland than beautiful gray November days .

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