After his highly successful debut with Fly by Night Press talking about his road trip across America, Marten (with an “e’) was excited to sit down again with me and give his best cross-cultural travel tips for Americans who are planning to visit Europe in the near future.
Now almost twelve years old, Marten discusses what TO do and what NOT to do, what to skip (because it’s B.O.R.I.N.G!). and why you should be open to some new experiences when you make it across the ocean.
If you’re planning to visit England, Belgium, Holland, France, Germany or Romania, Marten (with an “e”) has got you covered.
Many Americans, when making a tour through Europe, start in England to ease into the culture shock. Here, Americans can easily be understood when speaking English, and vice versa. I asked Marten what Americans should expect to experience that is different in the USA. He gave the following observations.
“It was pretty chill hearing real English. I can put on my own British accent, so I can understand the different accents that they have there. It’s not a problem for Americans.”
Q: Some Americans find the food too bland and the drinks too warm. What’s your answer to that criticism?
A: “The English breakfasts are very yummy! The sausage was my favorite part. I ate two of them. The eggs and the bacon too are really good. It wasn’t a problem that the bacon wasn’t crunchy. I just remember that it was yummy, like most bacon.”
Although English breakfast is served at any hour of the day in the country’s pubs, there is also lunch and dinner to consider. Marten observes, “Everybody in our family was eating fish and chips, on the ferry boat to France and at the pier in Hastings. The fish was good, but I don’t like the chips part. There were too many chips.”
Q: Were you excited to go to England for the first time?
A: “Going on the boat to and from England was fun. It was a really big boat. When I saw the white cliffs I was excited that I was close to England more than for just for seeing the white cliffs. I mean…they’re just white cliffs.”
Q: What will Americans notice immediately that is different after they arrive in England?
A: I think of the flag. It makes me feel that it is British, you know? You know you’re England when you see that flag…oh, and driving on the wrong side of the road.”
Q: Did driving on the left side of the road make you feel uneasy at all?
A: ”I trusted Dad to drive safe, but there was a second when I was “wait, woah”, but I got used to it pretty quick. But I did throw-up in the gutter when we got out of the car. I was looking at the sea, so I think I got a little car sick. Sometimes I just randomly throw-up.”
Q: How is England different from Europe?
A: “Is England even a country in Europe anymore?
Q: What’s your take on it?
A: I think It is, but it is not in the EU (European Union) anymore. The EU is just a big government made up of a bunch of countries. England left the EU because they wanted to be independent. That all bores me. I don’t really care about who leaves the EU. England can decide for itself. I’m hardly going to fly to England to say “Brexit is bad.”
Q: Why would Americans like to visit England in your opinion?
A: “For some reason I have in my head that Americans would pick a fight with the British. Some reason in my head I don’t think Amercians and British would get along, but they helped each other in World War II, so I don’t know where the idea comes from. It’s probably because there was a war between their countries in the past.”
Q: What attractions would you recommend in London?
A: “I haven’t been to London centre, so I’d really like to go there. I want to visit the British Museum, to see the treasures. Go to Tower Bridge, Big Ben, The London Eye. It all sounds pretty fun.”
When asked what Americans should do if they have only 24 hours to spend in Belgium, Marten (with an “e”) has the following advice:
“Eat the chocolate! Belgium has the best chocolate in the whole, wide universe.” Marten looked wildly around the room searching for words to pull out of the air, “I need to taste it to explain the taste.” He stopped and pouted.
I fetched four squares of Belgian chocolate from my personal stash in the refrigerator and handed it over solemnly. Marten spoke pensively as he chewed the bits of dark chocolate in his mouth, “It starts off bitter. After a few seconds it comes over nice and sweet. Kind of melts in your mouth. Has the perfect nuttiness. And at the end it has this really nice smooth chocolaty taste.” Unaware that he had used an adjective derived from the same noun he was trying to describe, he seemed fully satisfied with his explanation, and opened his eyes.
When pressed about why he thinks Americans should spend their time and money on Belgian chocolate when they have plenty of chocolate in the USA, he replied, “Because American chocolate tastes like candles. It’s like wax mixed with cocoa powder. They need to try the good stuff.”
When asked where they should go to find the best chocolate, Marten gives the following advice, “Go to the chocolate museum in Brussels. They had free chocolate tasting samples. You can then find which one you like the very best. And you can learn really helpful stuff about how good chocolate is for you, like that it is healthier than broccoli for you!”
The second recommendation Marten (with an “e”) has for the hungry travellers, who have just arrived on the continent is to “Get Waffles! Belgian street waffles. They are made the best way. It’s really hard to explain! It tastes like they’re from heaven.”
Belgian waffles, (or Luikse waffles, from the southern city of Liege) often called “sugar waffles” by the locals, have small sugar clots mixed in the waffle dough, and when served hot off the iron, hidden pockets of melted sweetness in the soft, chewy bread will surprise and delight your senses. To make sure you get the full sensory experience, Marten recommends, “powdered sugar, chocolate sauce and whipped cream,” to top your street waffle, so that every “waffle hole on top gets filled up with sugar, chocolate and cream.”
Apart from filling one’s stomach, when pressed on what else was a must do in Belgium, Marten recommends visiting the Atomium in the Parc de Laeken on the northern edge of the metropolis.
“It looks really cool. It’s a replica of a steel atom, but ten thousand times bigger. I don’t really remember why I liked going inside, because I was six or something, I just remember that it was exciting.”
When asked for a last recommendation of something else to get your heart pumping with excitement on your travels through Belgium, Marten speaks a word of warning. “Do not drive in Belgium!”
“Because Belgian drivers! They have death counts on the side of their roads. Signs that tell you how many people died on that exact part of the road. Not a good idea.”
What is attractive about France?
Living in The Netherlands one can often feel that there is no place that you can go to be alone. While the Dutch preserve what natural spaces they have left, Marten (witn an “e”) prefers France for enjoying the great outdoors.
“I like going to France to go camping. They have great natural places in the middle of nowhere that are the exact right place for camping. Right temperature, Good choice of camping spots. At Lac de Medine we could spread out. They had a lake you could swim in. We did lots of swimming in a natural lake. We could feel the seaweed and mud between our toes. It was like wearing seaweed socks.”
When pressed about French cuisine and what he would recommend, whether he is camping or staying in a village gite, his answer is echoed by the millions of other visitors to France each year, “They have a lot of good food with very fresh orange juice. Fresh croissants and baguettes in the morning when we are camping together with the fresh orange juice…oh, and LION cereal, that makes a great breakfast!”
France has a wonderful offering of art, culture and history for people of all ages. Marten has visited the greatest museums in Paris and the surroundings, viewing works by Monet, Picasso, DaVinci, Van Gogh and other masters. When I asked Marten which was his favorite museum his answer was very telling,
“Not the Louvre! It was too crowded. I couldn’t see the Mona Lisa until I was on Dad’s shoulders because there were so many people. And then, I got creeped out by it because she followed me with her eyes!”
History lives on every street corner in France, not only in Paris of course. Marten was impressed to visit Omaha Beach in Normandy and lay in the sand and water there where so many soldiers stormed the beaches to force the Nazis out of France at the beginning of the end of World War II. Also, on playing in a creek in the riverside hamlet of Les Andelys, not too far from the historic coastline, Marten found a rusty sickle between the rocks in the creek bed. The living history he has encountered over the years is obvious in his reminiscing about his own archeological discovery.
“I found a sickle in the creek one time. I should have kept it and turned into a museum or something. Maybe it came from somebody a long time ago who worked in the wheatfields around Les Andelys. They use tractors now, and not sickels. So it was probably ancient!”
Best restaurant ever in Europe?
Casa Romaneasca in Braşov, Romania for their dessert: Papa Naşi.
What is your favorite museum in Europe ever visited?
I liked Monet’s garden in Giverny, France. It’s pretty and outside.
Best Cathedral seen?
Notre Dame in Paris. It’s big.
Best park or playground in Europe?
Luxembourg City’s boat park.
Best attractions that people shouldn’t miss?
Charlemagne’s castle in Aachen. That’s a cool one! Big. Looked very rich. The design of the outside and inside.
Should Americans try to go to European football games?
Yes, its better than what they so call “football”. The name, it makes more sense. Takes longer too. You get 90 mins of actual play, not just 60 mins.
Do you speak other languages than Dutch and English? If so, which ones and which is your favorite?
“I can speak a little Spanish, but Dutch is my favorite language because you can live in the Netherlands with it, and I don’t want to live any place else, because it’s nice.“
If you could choose one destination this summer, after COVID-19 lockdowns are done, what would it be and why?
Toverland in Sevenum, NL because I couldn’t go there for the school field trip last year. And I need to go back to go on the Troy rollercoaster and the Phoenix. I swore an oath that the next time I go to Toverland that I would on the Troy. I swore it to myself.
Why should anybody want to visit Germany?
“Because Bratwurst! It’s the greatest sausage ever. Best I ever had was In Aachen. I like meat sandwiches.”
What other recommendations can you make?
“Do not eat potato salad and sauerkraut together. That would probably be real gross!”
“If you go to Aachen you have to see Charlemagne’s Cathedral. It’s kind of like a museum, but it feels like an old palace. Charlemagne was one of the greatest kings of Germany. His army went from Aachen to Spain, to Santiago. The inside of the Cathedral has stain glass that must have been made by somebody who worked very hard. It looks painful because it had to be a lot of work. I don’t like working hard.”
“Also because of good football. I like football in general, but especially live football. I watched my first live game in Germany and was really excited about being in the stadium and being able to see the whole field.”
Why should Americans go to a real football game?
“Because Americans have no idea of what football really means. Why call it soccer? You don’t play in your socks.”
Do you like European or American football better?
“I like the one that you actually use your foot for, because it really doesn’t make sense to call it “football” just because the ball is a foot long. American sandwiches are also called ‘footlongs’. You don’t call tennis: ‘7 cm ball’. No, you call it tennis.”
Can kids have fun in Germany?
“I laugh a lot because the German word for Cathedral is ‘dom’. That means ‘dumb’ in Dutch. So when you see a cathedral square, they call it the ‘domplatz’ and then everything around the cathedral gets called stupid. Also, because of the word fahrt. It means to drive. So we say Germans love to “fahrt” in their cars and also on the road you see signs everywhere that say Ausfahrt.”
What should you NOT do in Germany?.
“Don’t litter because they will scream at you….”
What is there to do in the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam?
Because the Netherlands appears to be so small on the world map, many visitors think that there can’t be too much to do outside of Amsterdam. This just isn’t true. The Netherlands has a rich fabric of history that has been played out in many different picturesque towns that are very worth visiting. It is an intriguing little country for the truly curious. Marten gives his advice of what to do in the rest of his little country under the sea.
“Delft was a fun little town with a lot of history. Johannes Vermeer the painter, Grote Janskerk, and the Nieuwekerk, where the Dutch kings are buried.”
“In Zeeland there is the delta works. That looked cool how they built it. They built these big gates, so that when the seawater is too high it stops more water from going into the land, I guess.“
Middelburg is the capital of Zeeland, and is a very typical Dutch city. Cobblestone streets, (in Dutch those are called ‘kinderkopjes’ or little kids’ heads) A big church tower, Kind of on the older side houses. A market. (I mean, what Dutch city doesn’t have a market?) and probably a good museum too, like all Dutch cities.”
“Don’t go to Rotterdam. There isn’t that much cool stuff there. The only famous thing about Rotterdam is that it has the biggest port in Europe. That’s the only really cool thing about Rotterdam.”
Would you recommend a trip to Romania?
“Yes, because its cool there. It’s something new to try out. It was something else that was different from the rest of Europe.”
What was different?
“The Netherlands is a pretty rich country and Romania was not that high quality and it was nice that way, because sometimes the high quality just gets to be too much.”
Do you think Americans would like travelling in a poor country?
You could make people happy with just 10 bani. Here at home that would be nothing. I liked being to give money away to poor people and help make them happy. There was a homeless lady on the street, in Bucharest, and I had twenty bani in my pocket and gave it all away, but I wanted to keep 10 but I still gave it. She blessed me.
Why is your hometown the best place in all of Europe to visit?
“I was born in Maastricht. It’s got everything you need, I guess: Football team, churches, market.”
“Maastricht also has the Mosasaurus: its species of dinosaur that used to live in the Maas River, or where Maastricht was. I thought it was cool that it was one of the first dinosaur bones I ever saw. It’s a dinosaur fish, an aquatic dinosaur. It had fins. Can’t see if it has gills because it was only bones. The teeth didn’t impress me. They were cool and all, but kind of what I was expecting. I didn’t get to touch the Mosasaurus, but I did touch a different skeleton of another fossil.”
They found the bones in the walls of the limestone (mergel) caves all around the city. We went in there, but I got scared because I was just six. It was darker than night!”
What three bits of wisdom would you give to Americans coming to Europe this summer?
1, Stay on the correct side of the road when driving. In someplace you have to drive on the left side of the road. Be careful!
2. Try the chocolate in Belgium. No special brand. Just if it’s made in Belgium then it’s going to be good.
3. If they have planned where they’re going, they can do their own research about that place so they wont get into trouble. I can’t tell them everything!
************************************************************************Marten (with an “e”) and his twin brother, born ten years apart, are the inspiration behind the author’s recent short story The Witch of Drontenburg (Sept 2020), set in a Dutch seaside village, that follows the adventures of a group of eleven-year old boys as they confront their worst (imagined) fears.
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