If you live in The Netherlands, there is no need to invest in a gym membership because chances are your house comes complete with its own Stairmaster -otherwise known as the Dutch staircase.
Anyone who has lived here can easily conjure up a vision of impossibly steep, narrow, long twisty staircases as part of the charm of living here. Did I say charm? I meant harm. Dutch stairwells can be described as perilously steep, vertically menacing, gravitationally perilous and just plain crazy.
When house hunting back in June before moving here, and wanting to live right in the city, there was one stipulation we gave our realtor. “We have two dogs, one is very large, we need a ground floor flat that has a garden (think backyard) and no or few entry-level stairs.” Having lived here before, we were well aware of how many steep and scary stairs can come with a Dutch apartment.
Holland is a country reclaimed from water. Land and space are in short supply. Homes are tall and thin – and so are the people. A little history for you… Centuries ago, when most homes in the Randstadts (big cities) were built, they were built very tall and alongside one another with load bearing stakes known as piles driven down through the sand beneath. In order to save money when building, some folks skimped on the length of the piles but built houses close together in a row to help keep them upright. It didn’t always work. Walking through the center of Amsterdam, you can see some very old row homes do indeed lean. Imagine adding that to your Stairmaster climb multiple times a day, everyday. Later, the government took over the construction of homes and standardized the length of piles. And, of course, added a tax on the width of the home built to cover the cost. Hence, there are very tall thin homes here. Before I knew this, I thought the Dutch themselves were so tall (the tallest in the world) and thin because they had to fit inside their homes, or more importantly their stairwells.
Every time I make my way up my stairwell to the second floor, I have to concentrate intensely and hold on to both banisters for fear of falling and killing myself. It’s even more intense on the way down. The stairwell seems endless. There are only 21 stairs. That’s actually pretty good. Some of my friends with flats on the second or third floor have at least 30 to 40 stairs to climb just to get to into their apartment door. That’s a serious workout just coming and going. And add grocery bags to that climb. Also another reason this country is not a target for the popular Fitbit.
The Dutch may not have mountains to climb outside their homes in this beautiful land of windmills and flowers, but they (and expats) have a mountain of pain associated with the daily trek up and down the stairwells inside.