Tuesday, February 17

Stepping Down

I have commented before on the nature of a Dutch house. The fact that land and space are in short supply and large demand in the lowlands produced and produces a country where skinny and tall is the norm. Second fact on that matter is that the Dutch physique itself fits that same description, but that friends, is commentary for another time.

Let's talk architecture.

Our home sits on a street of homes which look just like ours. Not only does our house resemble every other house on the block, we also share walls on 2 sides with neighbors. Who share walls on 2 sides with their neighbors. Who share walls on two sides with their neighbors. And so on, and so on, and so on. I know you have the picture in your head but just to illuminate, I shall show you. It looks like this:

On the inside our houses diverge from one another, not just in matter of decor but also by means of alteration and remodeling which most if not all the homes on this street have gone through (or are in the midst of even as I type these words). So where my neighbor a few doors down (count that, it's like 6 walls over) has knocked down a wall to make way for a less ship's-gallery-like kitchen, the owners of our home have left narrow kitchen in place but opted for a second (oh! the luxury!) bathroom on the first floor.

The variations are endless I suppose, but the one place where no alteration is possible and no alternative available is the staircases.

I tell you now, my dear readers and friends, Dutch stairs are a wonder to behold. Narrow, steep and windy are adjectives which fit but only for lack of better, wilder, more apt terms to describe the narrow, steep, windy things.

When we first moved to Holland, our youngest, Andrew, was just 2 years old. The sight of the steep, narrow, windy stairs in our first home in Leiden was enough to make me throw up in my mouth just a little. Steep. Steep. Steep. Oh, shit. Teaching him to ascend and descend with care and caution was the first item of adjusting to Dutch living on my list. Andrew quickly mastered the mostly crawl on the way up and the bum-slide-bump on the way back down. And while he tumbled down those steps at least once, he is not the family member who holds the record for most stair mishaps.

No, that would be me.

After our first year in Leiden, we gathered our things and moved to The Hague (but not before moving all of our accumulated THINGS to a friend's home while we transitioned, and hauled all of those possessions up TWO sets of steep, narrow, windy stairs to the second floor of her home). Our house hunt in The Hague consisted of one single element for me. On sight of stairs alone I chose a house. Well, almost.

Nearly impossible (especially as a family of five) to find a place to live WITHOUT stairs, I adjusted my standards and the OKAY TO MOVE IN list included places that at least had a hand rail next to steep, narrow and windy. Staircases which literally resembled ladders were out. Definitively.

So, we chose a home which, yes, has stairs. But steep, narrow and windy as they are, they are captured between 2 walls and sport a handrail for nearly the entire run.

Still, I've managed to fall down them more often than any other. Which is what I did just now as I was heading to check my e-mail. Thus, the birth of this post.

I think it's time I adopt the bum-slide-bump.


  1. That's just as I remember Dutch homes. Funny thing is, now there is now way I could climb those steps. Too claustrophobic, not to mention too steep for my poor heart.

  2. Oh, the stairs!
    Luckily, we live in an apartment with everything on one floor, so I don't have to take them very often these days.

    Back before I moved here, on my very first visit, I fell down the stairs on day 3 of my trip into a room full of Dutch people I was about to meet. How embarrassing!

  3. Yeah, our stairs are sort of windy and steep here but the Dutch have Belgians beat. When we went to Amsterdam I sometimes wondered if I could even fit in the stairwells they were so narrow.

  4. With one exception, we've always lived in places with stairs. Now, here we have not one, but TWO sets of stairs! And while the kids and I have all had our stair mishaps (just to be different, mine have always been to fall UP the stairs) someone else in our house - who shall remain unnamed - takes the prize for most stairway falls. Oh, it's not any of the dogs or the cats, either.

  5. Too funny... but also an important cultural lesson.

    What lesson? I'm just not sure.

  6. We have a radiator right at the bottom of our stairs and I just live in fear that someone will fall into it.

    I have a different problem from your house - I bang my head against the ceiling because the original occupants must have been 5'2".

  7. My friends in The Hague also had very steep stairs - I was so amazed when I saw them b/c I thought surely they had to be illegal. They were no deeper than a ladder and required one to step sideways in just the right way. Never fell but always had to hold the handrail tightly.

  8. Our house in Wheeling had 42 stairs from the door to the street. I know because I counted them every time I had to go up or down, which I did carrying Julia, because she was only 2.

    I don't miss those stairs at all.

  9. Here in Houston our rental has the opposite. Not many stairs but where they turn they are so wide that you can't get that "stair timing". The boys tend to cut the corner, slip, and end up sliding down the second half.
    During my short stay with you I had dubbed them the stairs of death. You should show the second flight, they seemed twice as steep!

  10. our house is full of stairs too! welcome to the low narrow stairs

  11. I'd be in SUCH trouble in Holland (or in many places in Europe), with this broken ankle! It hurts just to look at those steep, narrow things!