Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Frustrating Times in The Netherlands

The Dutch are lovely, helpful people. We've found this everywhere we've met them (which is everywhere) on our travels. One of the reasons why we've met them everywhere, we've come to realise, is that their own country can be a deeply frustrating one - they clearly just want to get out of it.

Take shopping for food for instance. Now, neither of us is a huge fan of supermarkets generally, and in an ideal world we'd shop at farmers' markets or have organic, seasonal vegetable boxes delivered to our bumper. However, as we've yet to find a campsite providing such a service, we've found supermarkets have been an invaluable source of our daily travel rations. This would also be the case in The Netherlands - if we could ever find one. Elsewhere in Europe our shopping technique is simple - get on the ringroad or bypass of a sizeable town and, voila, (or, presto, as the case may be) there's a Carrefour. Often they are signposted from a good 10kms away. Not so in The Netherlands. If big, out of town supermarkets exist here, we haven't found one. Instead we've been reduced to finding tiny town centre mini-markets (which means, of course, finding parking) which have a small range of produce and aren't easy to find in the first place. Then we have to pay. Environmentalists would probably salute this hypermarket-sparse landscape, but we certainly burn a lot more fuel trying to do our shopping in the Netherlands than in other countries.

Here's the next annoying thing about The Netherlands. While good old chip-n'-pin has worked everywhere else - meaning we can use our no-charge-for-use-overseas Post Office credit cards for groceries - very few places in The Netherlands seem to take Mastercard (or Visa). The Dutch have their own bankcard system (also, ironically, called PIN) and thus many places only accept Dutch cards. This has included campsites, aside from the one in Amersterdam which I presciently booked in advance. This wouldn't have been such a huge problem if: a) cash points were easy to find - total mission and b) both our Nationwide debit cards hadn't been swallowed by ATM's. This latter occurrence is no way the fault of The Netherlands of course, but it has naturally added to the frustration and means we'll have to pay commission every time we withdraw cash (from our Alliance & Leicester account).

In addition, Kate has caught a cold, the weather is rubbish and our laptop screen has developed a big white line down the middle. Again, none of this is the fault of The Dutch. But we're having a bit of a frustrating time of things here in The Netherlands.

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