We had no trouble driving from Brussels to Amsterdam, except for that one time the police roared their bright yellow motorcycles around our car frantically waving at us. I thought they were pulling us over, but they were simply indicating to Victor that if he planned to continue driving like an old fart, he had to move out of the faster lanes.  Victor said not to worry.  Our license plate was French.  Anyone who objected to our driving just assumed the French were bad drivers.

Then we arrived in Amsterdam. 
Please go get a pencil and a blank piece of paper.
Now do the following:
Close your eyes.
Draw a spiral on the paper. 
Then draw lots of Xs through the spiral. 
(Keep your eyes closed, now!) 
Crumple the paper up, flatten it out again and turn it 90°.
Now draw several happy faces. 
Now open your eyes. 
You just drew the actual map of Amsterdam!

When we entered Amsterdam we were immediately trapped in a maze. Canals randomly intersected the roads and swarms of speeding bikes appeared from nowhere. The street signs were small and illegible, however, they could have been enormous and it would not have helped us at all. The names of the streets were impossibly long. Most of the vowels were doubled up and the consonants were huddled together like little bouquets.

Eventually, we found our hotel. (It took about the same length of time as it took us to drive from Brussels to Amsterdam.) We bumped our bags up the stairs to our hotel lobby and Victor got instructions to the garage.

Our room was not yet available, so I sat in the lobby with the bags and read my book.  I read and I read and I read.  An hour passed and Victor still wasn’t back.  The room was finally ready, so I bumped all the bags down a flight and up a flight and then to the elevator in a different building.  I settled our bags in the room and unpacked.

An hour and a half after Victor drove away from the hotel, he returned.  The “parking surcharge” listed in the hotel information turned out not to be for a hotel garage, but actually for a public parking garage, which was a considerable distance from the hotel.  It took him a while to find it.

Victor walked in and explained all this. I asked him if he remembered my broodje which I had forgotten in the pocket of the door.  (A broodje is a Flemish or Dutch sub, or hoagie, or po’boy, or hero, understand?)

Well, was Victor annoyed!  We had to walk all the way back to the garage to retrieve my broodje, so the car wouldn’t smell like rotten meat after six days parked in Amsterdam.  When we got there, I noticed a sign that said that you must retrieve your car after four days.  We were staying six days.  Aha!  That was something Victor didn’t notice when he parked. In order to enter the garage to collect your car, (or your broodje, as the case may be,) you need to scan your parking card.  Unfortunately,Victor had left the parking card in the car.  We were stymied. So we illegally walked down the driving ramp to the car.

I told Victor that we should ask the guy in the booth whether we could leave the car for the six days we were staying in Amsterdam, or we actually had to take it out, pay, and park it again on the fourth day.  He thought it was ridiculous, but we asked.  The guy in the booth said we did indeed have to unpark and repark our car before four days were up or we would be charged a great deal of money when we finally took the car out of the garage.

Then he handed us tram tickets.  The guy in the booth said that each of us had to take the tram twice or we would have to pay more to park the car.  We had to use the tram chip cards and make sure that they dinged both getting on and off the tram.  If the chips did not record that we used the tram twice, all bets were off.

We found a tram stop and waited. One came quite quickly and we got on, making sure both our cards dinged.  The cards said “One Hour” on them. Since the rest of the card was in Dutch, Victor asked the driver if we had to actually stay on the tram for one hour.  The driver said we did.  We sat down and wondered where the tram would take us in an hour’s time.  We looked at our watches.  (Um, okay, 4 o’clock, we have to ride until 5.) Then a young woman interrupted our thoughts to tell us that we didn’t actually have to stay on the tram for an hour, we just had the option of doing so.  We thanked her and got off the tram at the next stop and wound our way back to the hotel on foot.

Victor thanked me for forgetting my broodje.  Parking ended up costing us 8 € per day.  If I had not forgotten my broodje, we would have paid 50 € per day times six days, plus a few hours more, (which would count as an extra day,) equals 350 € which translates to about $490…just for parking!

Victor was very happy with me for being forgetful, which was a nice change of pace for me, since being forgetful usually gets me in Dutch, so to speak.

TAGS: , , , , ,

IRENE ZION has been married to the same curmudgeon for 40 years. She has 5 children, none of whom sufficiently appreciates her. The one you probably know is Lenore, who frequently gives her mother hives. Irene paints oil portraits and makes her own frames. She has been described as an outsider artist. Most of her paintings creep people out, especially her family. She finds this to be greatly satisfying. She writes non-fiction for TNB and loves every minute of it. She is writing fiction now too, but is too chicken to show it to anyone. She has two golden retrievers who will inherit anything of worth she leaves behind. Her kids will delight in dividing up her famous cork collection and her notorious stockpile of bubble wrap.

69 responses to “How My Broodje Saved Us Around $490”

  1. Marcia in Illinois says:

    Tell us more about the broodje– it must have been a good one!

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Marcia in Illinois,

    We had broodjes for breakfast and broodjes for lunch. I’m planning to bake a light French bread in broodje-size so we can make them here. It is a very sensible meal. This particular one was just too big for me to eat that morning. I put it in the door for safe-keeping but forgot it!

  3. Christine W. says:

    I love the street names! I stood here trying to pronounce them. It wasn’t pretty…

    • Irene Zion says:


      Now imagine sitting in the passenger seat and trying to read the map and the street signs to the driver! I couldn’t read a single sign! It was hopeless. It is a miracle that we got to our hotel at all.
      Don’t ask me to pronounce broodje, either. It doesn’t sound like it looks.

  4. jmblaine says:

    A jazz professor once
    told me that street names
    in Amsterdam
    were good for coughing
    up phlegm.

    Oh the adventures
    of Victor & Irene.

    I almost see the Zions
    like some sort of TNB reality TV.
    A broodje in the door.
    I shake my head in wonder
    at you Irene Zion.

    • Irene Zion says:


      I think that the Dutch have a secret that allows them to pronounce these words.
      Several consonants group together with a vowel or two to make a single short sound.
      That takes up a lot of letters.
      I think the problem we have is that we try to pronounce them all.
      It’s way too complicated for the likes of me, but I’ve heard it.
      (I do wonder how there could be enough boxes when they try to fill out forms, though.)

      We do have adventures.
      Oh my.
      Yes we do.

  5. Melissa says:

    Great now I have the Brady Bunch song going through my head. Here’s the story of Irene’s Broodje… who was all alone in the car door. Ok that is bad.
    Good story as usual sweets.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I do wish you hadn’t said that.
      Now I have to hum something in my head so it can’t get in.
      You are not supposed to share earworms, you know.
      That’s just nasty.

  6. J.E. Fishman says:

    This is why people in Europe usually take the train.

    • Irene Zion says:

      You know, Fishman, we thought of taking the train.
      We were able to see some interesting small towns that would be difficult to see that way, though.
      When it came to the big cities, we just drove to the city and parked until we left for the next place.
      The public transportation within the cities is wonderful.

  7. Frank says:

    Ah, yes…

    Victor & Irene dancin’ through Amsterdam, doin’ the broodje boogie…

    But the funny thing is, Irene, knowing you & Victor -it doesn’t boggle the mind, no, not at all. Indeed, were something like this NOT to happen, I do believe we’d all get a bit worried about y’all…

    Enjoy the mangos I sent home with Victor -they’re really particularly good this year. That’s good -because there’s TONS of the delectable fruits falling in droves even as I speak… Go out in the back yard after a while without a mango patrol, having had a bit of a breeze kicking up to jostle things around, and it’s almost time for the quite from the Wicked Witch of the West as she met her demise…


    • Irene Zion says:


      Perhaps the broodje boogie is what you must do in your yard to dodge the projectile mangoes.

      • Frank says:

        Listen -I bet the broodje in the door pocket after four days would STILL take a back seat to that place you stayed in where you had to re-plug in the air freshener…!

        So -after I got home today, after I had lunch, as usual, I -still wearing my Fairchild duds, usually do this week’s yard work -I figure I might as well, I’m dressed for it, I’m already warmed up for it, and I’m in the mindset for it, having come from doing -well, basically, yard work -at Fairchild, I go out into the back yard.

        Now Sally’s already gone on Mango Patrol today, understand, and collected a bag of 6 or 7 of them -and I collect another bag or 7 or 8 of them. I bring them into the house, and resume my yard rounds -and lo & behold, thunk! -another one is deposited! Standing in one spot, not really trying too hard, I counted 65 more -many at elevations of 20 feet or higher: hard hat city…

        The broodje boogie it is!


  8. George says:


    You are the new Irma Bombeck.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Why, thank you kindly, George.
      I remember her fondly.
      (I wonder how many TNB readers know who Irma Bombeck was.)

      • Jessica Blau says:

        I remember her. My best friend in elementary school’s mother used to read her books and she’d pass them on to us to read when she was done. We loved them. The only title I remember is: If Life’s a Bowl of Cherries, Why am I in the Pits. Or something like that.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Obviously that was an excellent title, Jessica Anya, if you remember that since elementary school!
          We should all do things that are as memorable.

  9. Jessica Blau says:

    Irene, I had no idea you were in Amsterdam, too! I thought you were just going to Luxembourg. My brother lives in Amsterdam–I would have sent you and Victor to him, he’s so much fun!

    Great story, as usual. I think there should be a collection: The Tales of Irene and Victor. And I think I’ve said this before, but will say again that I love Victor’s sort of invisible presence. He’s like Lars, the never-seen but often discussed husband of Phyllis in the very old Mary Tyler Moore Show.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Jessica Anya,
      I would have knocked on his door, if I had known!

      Victor is very similar to Lars.
      He might be Lars.
      I’ll have to check.

  10. Melissa says:

    I love Irma Bombeck. The Grass is always Greener over the Septic Tank. She also did a bit about being in the dressing room at Lohmens.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Now, see there, Melissa?
      That is a title that people simply do not forget.
      I need to read all those again.
      I don’t remember the dressing room story. I’ll have to look for it.

  11. Dear Irene you and Victor are enjoying every moment of life… and this makes me indescribably happy. I love to share the adventures however vicariously they may be. xxo

    • Irene Zion says:

      Well, Robin,
      I have to say that we do the best we can.
      If you don’t enjoy yourself, what’s the point?
      Thank you for reading.

      • Your best is envious…. many happy travels to you and Victor!

        • I believe the word I was looking for in the above comment was enviable… but then again I had that second glass of wine with dinner….

        • Irene Zion says:

          Oh Robin,
          I am completely envious of your second glass of wine with dinner. Ever since we were in Belgium, he has broken out a different Belgian Abby Beer at dinner. I could use a glass of wine for a change.
          Thanks for the good wishes!

  12. Ruthie says:

    You are a heroine, hooray you saved the day! Don’t let Victor forget this for even one day. While our motto is “Eat those eggs,” your motto can now be
    “Don’t eat that sandwich.” I knew we had a lot in common. Great story.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I would love to say that Victor will remember this, but it’s spitting in the wind.
      I suppose that I could keep reminding him that I saved the day, but he’ll forget.
      Take it from me, in a month this will all be ancient history.

  13. Gloria says:

    I’m so happy to hear your sandwich saved the day. Was it a good sandwich?

    How was Amsterdam?

    • Irene Zion says:

      Gloria, it was fabulous.
      You can get a broodje with any filling at all.
      This one was salami and ham and salad.
      I’m not sure if they actually say “salad” there, but they didn’t always understand “lettuce” when I asked for it, so I just said “salad” and that worked.

  14. Greg Olear says:

    Those signs, my God. No wonder they let you smoke pot there!

    Glad you retrieved your broodje.

    • Irene Zion says:

      You might be on to something, Greggie.
      Maybe when you are under the influence your eyes blur the letters so that it becomes a word you can actually pronounce.
      Maybe your vision becomes really sharp and the long words break up into a sentence.
      I have to think about this some more….

  15. Uche Ogbuji says:

    The important question was: was the Broodje tasty enough to be worth the trek?

    I must say that if I were eating a Broodje or slurping snert while I read your description of the map of Amsterdam, I would have spewed something out of my nose. Very noce 🙂

    I love, love, love Amsterdam. It’s probably tied with London for my second favorite city, after Boulder. I have clever friends who arrange conferences there, so when I go I always take a few days on either side to explore and re-explore.

    It is kind of cool how you can get killed in 3 different ways on Amsterdam streets. First there’s the road, and then the tram lane, and then the bike lane, which is easily the most dangerous of the three.

    Pancake houses on the Leidseplein, kicking the football about the Vondelpark, Clubbing on Regulierswaarstrasse, the Boom Chicago canal boat tour (especially if your guide is adventurous enough to take you out on the Ij). Now I’m jonesing for a trip back. Thanks for the strippenkaarten down memory lane 🙂

    • Irene Zion says:


      It is interesting that scooters are limited to the bike lanes. You would think they would be in the same category as motorcycles.
      You would never confuse the people riding bikes in Amsterdam, with bike riders here. In Amsterdam they are wearing what they need to wear for work. They have no helmet. The bikes are virtually all rusty old clunkers, since they expect them to be stolen. Their posture is stick upright, yet they are fast.
      It is frequently unclear where the bike lanes are. These were the dangerous places for me. I credit only luck that I wasn’t wiped-out.
      (The broodje was delicious.)

    • SAA says:

      Ooooh, rum raisin pancakes!

  16. Quenby Moone says:

    I have drawn your map, and I can see your problem: You forgot to draw a bridge over one of the waterways. Had you but known this small but salient fact, even your broodje would have been unnecessary.

    Other than this relatively minor oversight, I’m glad you’re not in Dutch with Victor. At any rate, did you have some nice frites?

    • Irene Zion says:


      That map is 99 44/100% pure.
      You forgot to turn the sheet of paper 90° after you crumpled it and flattened it out.
      That happens all the time.
      Map-making is a skill you learn over time.

      The Belgians and the Dutch both claim “frites” as their own.
      (Luxembourgians tried to claim them, but no one paid attention.)
      The Belgian frites are thick while the Dutch are more narrow and dainty.
      The critical thing is that both versions are served with heaps of mayonnaise.

  17. Joe Daly says:


    I’ll bet this is a typically excellent piece, but alas- I don’t know a lick of Dutch!!!

  18. Irene Zion says:


    Only the Dutch know Dutch, (well, the Dutch and aliens, but there are so few saucers landing nowadays that they are hardly worth counting.)

    The most interesting language we came across on this trip was Luxembourgish. This is a language which is a melding of French and German. I know! It sounds impossible, right? But it’s true. We sat through a mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral. First I thought it was French, then German, then French, then German. I left there mystified until I learned about Luxembourgish. It is so very strange to the ear!

  19. ksw says:

    the bottom is an awful place. it smells like feces, and has a large vertical crack. we should avoid that at all possible cost.

  20. Irene,

    Wow. That city sounds confusing.

    This cracked me up:

    “Victor said not to worry. Our license plate was French. Anyone who objected to our driving just assumed the French were bad drivers.”


    I also laughed at your description of how to draw a map of Amsterdam. Nice.

    I’m so glad that little potentially stinky, forgotten car-sandwich saved you so much money! Now you can buy many more delicious broodjes. (:

    • Irene Zion says:

      You know, Tawni, it was not at all confusing to Victor, but I simply have no sense of direction.
      I have trouble getting around my own home town, let alone in a different country.

      I wish I had the presence of mind to photograph those motorcycle policemen.
      They looked just like storm troopers, but yellow.

      I’m still trying to think how I can capitalize on my saving us so much money….

      (The map is 100% accurate. Seriously.)

  21. SAA says:

    I could barely navigate Amsterdam on foot, but in my defense I was really, really high.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Walking entails adapting to the roundabouts with upwards of 6 roads intersecting and dealing with
      the various lanes for cars and trams and bikes.
      I’m sure your being high had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

  22. Judy Prince says:

    Egad, Irene, you’re awfully patient! A *public parking garage*, while staying at the hotel, for goodness sakes! And when the tram guy said you had to travel on the tram for an hour—-I’da hit him in the head with my broodje! (though while reading, I laffed out loud at the ludicrousness of it all)

    Rodent and I’ve been at the Schiphol Amsterdam airport each time we fly to the UK from the States, and they have an awesome art gallery which takes a person out of the horrible airport atmosphere. What a brill idea!

  23. Irene Zion says:

    Hey there Judy!

    How lovely that you think I’m patient! I can’t say as anyone has ever said that about me.

    In the end, it was just our ignorance of the system which caused our confusion. We learned that there just isn’t room in Amsterdam for extra cars. They encourage you to use the tram in hopes that you will not add to the traffic. Of course, we only wanted to get into Amsterdam and park, so it worked out okay in the end.

    Putting an art gallery at the airport is a brilliant idea! I can’t think of anywhere that makes more sense. Smart people, the Dutch!

  24. Pamela Norinsky says:

    Love to read about all your adventures! You tell a story like no other does!!!

  25. Irene Zion says:

    Why, thank you, Pamela,

    We do have adventures, that’s a fact. It may be that this sort of thing only happens to us. I don’t know why that would be, but most people don’t seem to get all tangled up like this. Maybe other folks just don’t write it down.

  26. Blame it on the French… I love it! (I will add, though, having visited France almost a dozen times, that they ARE generally quite poor drivers, at least in the north of the country.) One of my friends in South Korea kept getting in trouble when he was drunk, then always screamed “Canada Rules!” and ran away. He was, naturally, American. I didn’t blame him because Americans have a bad enough reputation there and no one anywhere really feels much contempt for Canada.

  27. Irene Zion says:

    I’ll have to remember that, David.
    I could carry a bag with the maple leaf insignia.
    Can’t hurt to be able to deflect attention.

  28. I love a good broodje and I love Amsterdam. It’s known as a party town, but it’s so lovely and almost quaint for a major city.

    As for the French bad drivers, it’s really just the Parisians (again) giving the rest of the country the bad rep (though also I think most French enjoy being thought of as crazy behind the wheel).

    Still, they’re not as crazy or as hellbent as the bicyclists in Amsterdam.

  29. Irene Zion says:

    I agree with you, Nathaniel,
    as far as crazy goes, no one can hold a candle to the bicyclists in Amsterdam.

  30. ksw says:

    Wish you had taken a picture of V being very happy. Just can’t get over that. How many miles did you trek?And is there a veggie Broodje? c

    • Irene Zion says:

      It’s funny, c, happy Victor looks very much like serious Victor.
      In fact, I think it looks exactly the same.
      You could just look at any picture of him.

      A broodje is anything you want it to be.
      That is the beauty of the broodje, c.

  31. Marcia in Illinois says:

    I should stop reading these comments before lunch at work. Now someone’s comment (I lost track of whose already) has me thinking about Dutch pancakes. Also mangoes. And cocktails made with mangoes. . .

    Also, I think your stuff is WAY better than Erma Bombeck’s. And she didn’t have Victor to write about.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Erma Bombeck was amazing, yet it is true that she didn’t have the benefit of Victor.
      I’m just super lucky in that regard.
      Thank you for even thinking that, Marcia!

  32. Tim says:

    Did you see the 10-year-old prostitutes there? That’s what really stands out in my memory from that place.

  33. Hey Irene–

    As you know, we used to live in A’dam. We never owned a car out there, of course–I didn’t even own a bike, which is practically mandated by law in Amsterdam. But I just walked everywhere. In the rain. In fact, owning a car seemed so insanely impractical there that, recently, I was writing a chapter set in Amsterdam and the protagonist’s brother, who lives there, picks her up from the airport in his car, and David began to chide and berate me for thinking that anyone who lived in Amsterdam would actually own a car.

    When I protested that indeed we did see cars there and that someone therefore must have owned them, he seemed to think this a foolish argument.

    (Hey, did you know Lenore is reading at TNBLE in August?! You should come in for it too!)

  34. Irene Zion says:

    Hey there, Gina!
    I agree with David that people are nuts to have a car in Amsterdam, but the streets were lined with parked cars. Parking on the street was really expensive, so there have to be some people who think it’s a good idea. Your protagonist’s brother would simply be one of them. Tell David that you are both right.

  35. Did the broodje taste all the better for its added fiscal value? I get a deli roll on Saturday afternoons from a place a few suburbs over. Man. They’re so good. Swiss cheese and sun-dried tomato and olives and mushroom and prusciutto… dang. But they’ve never saved me five hundred bucks.

  36. Irene Zion says:

    That added fiscal value was the best secret sauce ever!

  37. Gregory Messina says:

    Isn’t Amsterdam a beautiful city? I was so surprised because people always talked about the red light district and the coffee shops. Nobody ever talked about the actual city and it’s charming canals.

    I love that you were willing to stay on the tram for an hour although that made no sense whatsoever. You are real troopers.

    • dwoz says:

      Not to mention that a handful of, oh, I dunno, only the most influential painters in the history of the world, were from Amsterdam.

      sex and drugs and linseed oil, are all my brain and canvas need

      doesn’t quite have the same gallup to it.


      • Irene Zion says:

        True, Dwoz.

        The museums are wonderful in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum, which is their largest, was unfortunately being renovated so only a small percentage of the art work was on display.

  38. Irene Zion says:

    Haha! Well, Gregory, we’re nothing if not law-abiding, even if we struggle with understanding what the rules actually are.

    Amsterdam is a truly lovely place. The canals add such a richness to the look of the city. Every street looked different from the last. I probably took a thousand pictures of the water lapping at the sturdy historic buildings lining the canals.

  39. jmblaine says:

    Irene Zion
    is like TNB’s own
    Elton John
    What is this now
    20 Number One Smash Hits
    in a row?

    Oh to be so loved.

  40. […] from the hotel as the crow flies, but the way the streets were mapped out, (do you remember the map I had you draw in an earlier piece?) it was about 100 […]

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