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Living in our small town I bike to work. It is only 4km which is a quick bike commute but a bit too long for walking. Most days it is really pleasant to ride to work and back. The upright riding position of the Dutch bike and lack of gears always seems to put a smile on my face. Then the days get cold. People still ride with snow on the ground. On a couple occasions the roads have turned quite icy. I could walk to the train station and then wait and take a train or just walk but I still want to take the bike. It is easier and all the Dutch seem to bike in the snow. So I just get on the bike confident that my excellent bike handling skills will carry my through.

I rode a couple blocks before seeing a girl on the ground with her bike. A guy walking by said something in Dutch that seemed to be about ice and then the next moment I was on the ground with the bike on top of me. Ouch. My arm was bruised but I managed not to get hit by a car. Same thing happened today – same place even! I rode a couple blocks and then – wham! Down on the ground sliding. The road was coated like a froze kipfilet (chicken filet).

I got up and the woman standing there starts talking to me. “Morga morta moarta mor icy something morg a mor”. I smile and reply “Ja, ja”. She says “morga morga” and then walks off. I like conversations like this. I feel proud that I did not let on that I am a stupid American that doesn’t understand Dutch. The rest of my ride was uneventful since most bike paths had grit to make it easier. I even had a smile on my face when I arrived at work.

As a kid, I lived for weekends when my family would take me to Elmer’s for my favorite breakfast treat: a Dutch Baby.  I loved getting the puffy, steaming, cast iron pan-shaped delight and dousing it with maple syrup, lemon and powdered sugar.  The maple syrup part was my own invention and would not have passed the Dutch pancake authenticity test, but I preferred to think that it brought out the complex flavors of the caramelized pancake crust.

Now in the Netherlands, I have of course been fascinated with Dutch Pannenkoeken.  I got my first real introduction to them a few years back in New Zealand of all places.  Prior to that, my only Dutch pancake experience was limited to my beloved Elmer’s Dutch Baby.

Evan and I were staying in a hostel at the foot of Mt. Cook – New Zealand’s highest mountain.  We had just returned from the semi-harrowing experience of descending an adjacent peak in extreme winds and white-out conditions.  As with other guests in the hostel, we prepared our meal in the shared kitchen.  Next to us were two blondes – a Dutch couple we discerned from their hushed talking – whom we’d seen at a few other hostels in other towns along our journey through the South Island.

The couple was making pancakes – piles of pancakes.  Nice thin little mini-crepes and they just kept piling them on top of one another.  I found myself staring and finally had to satisfy my curiosity.  ‘What kind of pancakes are those’?  They answered simply, ‘mmmm…just pancakes’.  Of course they’re pancakes!  But they look different than the results of the Krusteaz mix my mom used when I was a kid and you’re piling them a foot high!  So, I continued pestering this nice couple as they tried to go about making their dinner in peace.  ‘So, they’re just pancakes?  What do you put on them?’  They finally realized that the simple fried goodness they were making was a novelty to me and answered, ‘cheese – I guess…they’re cheesy pancakes’.  Aha!  Dutch cheesy pancakes!  It all makes so much sense now!

I have been fascinated by these savory pancakes ever since and was so excited to try the real thing now that we’re in the Netherlands.  Lucky for us, the town we’re living in is conveniently located a mere 14-mile round-trip run away from the Shang-ri-la of Dutch Pancakes: Lage Vuursche.  Evan nicknamed this place Pancake Land upon his first visit here before Christmas. People kept telling him about this little village in the forest where all the restaurants served pancakes.  He attempted a bike ride out there one afternoon, but turned back due to the fading daylight.
This past weekend, he got the chance to return.  We decided we were going to run to Pancake Land!  We suited up in our warmest running gear, as the weather has been frigid and forecasters were calling for what we learned in Syracuse was called a “wintry mix”.

We set off through Hilversum, through the deserted main shopping streets, past the Hilversum Sport Park and onto a straight, flat road with wide bike lanes on either side.  We saw not one, but two runners on our path there – an exciting sight for us!  We waved our runner hello’s and continued on into a path through the forest.  Evan had been here before on his bike and we found the little Thee Huis (Tea House) that caters to outdoors folks looking for a place to warm up inside post-adventure.  We sped past it after a quick glance through the windows. We followed the conveniently-posted signs for Lage Vuursche through the birch forests with wide bike paths until finally our path dumped us off on the one road leading into this little dorp (village).  The first thing I saw was the cutest Dutch farm house imaginable, complete with red-and-white painted shutters, a thatched roof, smoking chimney, sheep in the front yard grazing, and a horse-drawn carriage painstakingly painted in all shades of blue just hanging out under the cover of a hay barn.  Unbelievable.  The cars in this town were nice – the nicest we’ve seen so far in the Netherlands.  It was clear that we had entered a different world over here in little Lage Vuursche.

The second thing I saw, across the street from the picturesque farm house and sheep, was the most heinous thing I’ve seen since our arrival here: a completely fenced-in, barbed-wire protected, security-camera laden fortress.  This poor Dutch farmer has to look at that awful thing?  I couldn’t believe this overzealous protection and isolation – and from what?  The sheep across the road?  Since Hilversum is known as the home of the Dutch stars, we figured that some overly-paranoid star lived there.  How obnoxious.  Evan came to find out later that the Dutch Royal family actually owns the literal compound behind all the fencing.  Oh.  Well, I guess maybe they need the security.  But come on – it’s freaking Lage Vuursche and there’s only sheep and pancakes against which to protect oneself!

My protection against the famed Lage Vuursche pancakes was a lack of funds.  We purposely left our money at home knowing that if we sat down at one of the SEVEN pancake restaurants that line the main street, there would be no way we’d be able to run the 7 miles back to Hilversum!  Instead, we peered in all the windows, looked at all the menus, and even found multiple stores selling AUTHENTIC GARDEN GNOMES!  Like, antique ones.  Original garden gnomes.  Is the Netherlands the home of the gnome?  I have no idea, but it sure seems like it.  And they all live in Lage Vuursche.

At 11-15 Euros a pancake, I was kind of glad we didn’t bring our funds with us.  Seems a little steep to me for pancakes, but I guess they are serving the Dutch Royal Family so maybe they can afford to jack up the prices.  And anyway, none of the pancake places were open for breakfast, another thing I found strange.  We verified upon our return to Hilversum that pancakes are more a lunch or dinner item, which also explains the seemingly high price for these delicacies.

Once we were home, Evan and I made our own Dutch pancakes with a Pannenkoeken mix we bought at the grocery store.  We followed the example of our fellow Mt. Cook Hostel guests and piled them one on top of the other, and enjoyed them with a sampling of Dutch goat’s cheese and fresh Gouda from the market.  Delicious and well-deserved after our 14 mile run!

Polder – Low lying land that has been reclaimed and is protected by dikes
Lopen – Walking or Running

Polderlopers – ones who run in the lowlands between dikes.

One of the truly Dutch activities is riding bikes. This is not the sporty bike touring that I think of in the states but as an integral part of the day. You see kids, moms with babies, grandmas and business men all riding around town. People use their bikes to get to work, go to church and see their friends. The bikes are really well suited to the task. The Dutch bikes are very upright with flat pedals and fenders. Dress-guards keep your clothes from getting hung up in the spokes and every bike has a chain cover and kick stand. Biking in the small towns of Holland is easy because they have lots of well maintained bike lanes and it is flat. I think that is what other cities miss when they try to copy the Dutch biking model. Bike commuting works because they do not have to go up hill. That means you can arrive at your destination without getting hot and sweaty. Perfect. People do have nice expensive bikes but most are old and beat up. This is a necessary because you normally store your bike outside. The nicer the bike is the better the chance of getting stolen. Often locks are just a metal loop around the back wheel. This makes the bike unrideable but is not a real deterrent. The best way to make sure that your bike does not get lifted is to be the crappies looking one in a sea of bikes. That is pretty easy when the train stations have many hundreds of bikes parked outside.

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