Back on the streets of Dordrecht after our elevating experience on top of the Grote Kerk, we wandered aimlessly down small alleys with fascinating shops, over canal bridges and along the river front until we found a pleasant restaurant overlooking where the Oude Mass, Beneden Merwede and Noord rivers meet. This is a busy river junction and lunch came with a steady flow of shipping to entertain us.
It was here that I learned a salutary life lesson: when a waiter tells you that the type of meat in the dish you’re considering ordering is “meat”, chances are you should opt for something else. Even if it is a Dutch speciality, and even if half of the diners in the restaurant are eating it. I’ve decided to adopt this as a guiding principle for the rest of my life, largely on the assumption that the rest of my life will be longer and more pleasant if I don’t consume dishes with the magic ingredient “meat”.
To be honest, if you exclude Indonesian food (of which some of the best outside of Indonesia is to be found here), my experience of Dutch cuisine so far is that it can be pretty uninspiring. I don’t want to generalise, but there are a lot of deep friend croquette-type things, deep friend bitterballen, gehaktballen, raw pickled herring, alarmingly red-coloured sausages and very stodgy cakes. That said the kibbeling, small pieces of lightly battered fried fish served at numerous street stalls, is rapidly becoming a favourite.
A disappointing lunch over, we set off to find the water taxi stand which would hopefully take us down the Noord river to Rotterdam. The integrated transport system in the Netherlands is one of the country’s wonders. Everything just works. On our trip to Dordrecht we took a tram, an intercity train, a boat and a newly built metro. Everything was on time, clean, efficient and affordable.
Not only that, you can pay for all forms of transport with one prepaid card. The miraculous OV-chipcard can be used anywhere in the country. It makes British public transport look like something from a dystopian future, a future where making as much money for private companies at the expense of everyone else is the only criteria for success. Hmm, now I mention it that sounds familiar. British politicians should be forced to work in Dutch public transport before they are allowed to start messing with British trains and buses.
Safely on board the small and swift river taxi, we sped down the Noord passing much bigger freight and cargo ships. Soon we were in the suburbs of Rotterdam and then right in the heart of the city. It was wonderful. The sun was out so we walked to the central station, although we could have used the tram or the bus. It was on this walk that we came across one of Rotterdam’s most notorious pieces of public art. Spoiler alert, if you are easily offended don’t read on…
To describe Santa Claus with butt plug, a sculpture by Californian artist Paul McCarthy, as controversial is an understatement. Its enough to bring tears to the eyes, and makes Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa look like the Milky Bar Kid.
This 18-foot high latex-like representation of Santa Claus wielding an enormous, there are no other words for it, butt plug, sits in a public square at the end of a busy shopping street. Seeing it in such ordinary surroundings is something of a shock to the system, so to speak. Typical of modern art, Santa has ended up looking much like a garden gnome with a slightly, if understandably, maniacal look in his eyes.
Leaving Santa behind – the statue has a tendency to make everything sound like innuendo – we decided to ride the newly constructed metro system back to The Hague. We could have taken a train or a bus, and probably a hot air balloon, but decided we’d had enough excitement for one day.