Dutch lifestyle

  • Say cheese
    Denise Kortlever, Monday, January 27, 2014

    Betty Koster is the ultimate cheese expert in Holland and owner of l’Amuse, a highly recommended cheese shop with locations in Santpoort and Amsterdam. Few people are as knowledgeable and can talk as passionately about cheese as Betty. According to her, what’s so special about Dutch cheese, is that our little country has many different terroirs and it is exactly those that determine the taste. “In the Netherlands, we have mature cheeses from the Groene Hart area and sweet and creamy cheese from the province of Brabant, where the cows graze on rich grass. We have the pré-salé (saline pasture) sheep cheese from the islands of Texel and Terschelling, and also the intense and smooth dairy products from the polders of the province of Noord-Holland. A journey along some different types of cheese you definitely need to try when visiting the Netherlands:

    Remeker is made by Irene and Jan Dirk van der Voort on their farm in Lunteren. They own a hundred Jersey cows that produce incredibly rich and creamy milk, which the couple then transforms into outstanding organic cheese. The raw milk is processed and then matured in their cheese warehouse, so the taste develops slowly. Remeker is matured for six months and has a buttery flavour, whilst the 18-month old variety (Oude Remeker) also delivers a pleasant crunch. ‘Oude Remeker’ (mature Remeker) was awarded the World’s Best Jersey Cheese and Best Dutch Cheese (2008).

    Lady’s Blue is a blue cheese made from raw goat’s milk and named after the ‘leading lady’ of the goat herd, its coat resembling the colour of blue cheese. The cheese is produced on the Kruidenwei (‘herb meadow’) in Gelderland by couple Ayla Groenveld and Ger Entjes. Lady’s Blue cheese is both creamy and spicy, but also surprisingly easy to digest.

    Le Petit Doruvael may sound French, but is really a Dutch cheese made by the Vlooswijk family on a farm in Montfoort. This unique red flora cheese – one of the very few in the Netherlands – is made from pasteurized milk and can be recognized by its orangey-red colour. Le petit Doruvael is a deliciously creamy, soft cheese and has a very pronounced, aromatic scent.

  • City Parks: An Oasis of Calm in the City
    Heather Tucker, Monday, September 16, 2013

    I love the city. There is something about the hustle and bustle that I find inspiring. But even I can appreciate that every once in awhile there is a need for a little bit of peace and quiet. Luckily, the cities of the Netherlands have kept this in mind. Amsterdam has Vondelpark, Rotterdam has Het Park and I headed off to Zuiderpark in The Hague to see just how well it could do at recharging my batteries

    Since 1936, Zuiderpark has been a place of recreation and relaxation for the inhabitants and it didn’t take long to find out why. This large park features a mixture of tree lined walks, large grassy fields, playgrounds, a rose garden, a deer enclosure and even a swimming pool. The park is also a clear favourite with cyclists, runners, and skaters. And with barbeque facilities and Parkpop in the summer, Zuiderpark is no doubt the place to be especially when the sun is shining.

    It was slightly cloudy when I arrived but there were still plenty of people taking advantage of the last of the summer weather. What I enjoyed most about the park was how you could walk for quite some time before coming across something that you had already seen. It was also interesting to see how the park changed from section to section.

    At one point we were walking past a small canal with a bridge and the next we were standing and observing some deer. After sneaking past a huge gang of ducks, we were able to push open the gate onto a quiet and beautiful enclosure filled with roses. As children’s’ laughter floated on the breeze from one of the playgrounds, we watched two kids attempting to fly their kites on the grassy field – one with more success than the other.

    After a couple of hours of walking around Zuiderpark I was ready to head home but in a much more relaxed state than I arrived. The visit was a good reminder that no matter how crazy and chaotic it can be in the city, there is always an oasis of calm nearby in the form of a city park.

  • A bike tour through the real Good and Green Amsterdam
    Amber el Zarow & Harold Verhagen, Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    If you only have 24 hours to visit Amsterdam, cycling is the way to go. Dutch cycles and cyclists are on top of the traffic hierarchy. Good and green establishments are taking over Amsterdam and are winning the hearts of both locals and tourists. Everyone you will meet during this tour has a good story; don't be afraid to ask; the Dutch are proud and love to share their passions with tourists.

    9am – After taking the 9:07 train from Schiphol to Amsterdam Zuid, take the bus and make a short stroll through a typical Dutch urban neighbourhood. Loads of little coffee stores, lunchrooms, but moreover loads of parked bikes.

    10 am – You arrive at the Bicycle Hotel, a simple hotel with a living room like ground floor and simple yet efficient rooms. Not even 45 minutes after taking the train from Schiphol you hop on the bright yellow bikes rented at the hotel and head off to Charlie + Mary; a concept store in lively downtown Amsterdam.

    10am – Charlie+Mary works with ethical and sustainable fashion labels with a story. This store doesn’t only sell and tell fashion, but is also a bookstore and a lunchroom. The Proud Otter lunchroom loves rocking it organic style and serves a great variety of locally produced drinks and bites in the back of the store (homemade sparkling elderflower lemonade is a must try).

    11am – Hop on your bike again and cycle to Lush. Lush uses about 20.000.000 Sicilian lemons and 50.000 kg of fruit and vegetables per year. Not to produce food, but to make fresh cosmetics. The smell when we enter the store is great and makes us relax and hungry at the same time. Try the emotional brilliance, a wordup (not a makeup) that makes you ‘put on a mood instead of a makeup’. Using as little packaging material as possible is Lush’ challenge and that makes their store a unique place to visit.

    12pm – After Lush you could wonder around the city and make a short stop at Europe’s biggest store of Starbucks, the Dutch flagship store. This store is established in an old bank and is worth visiting because of the great coffee and rough interior with recycled materials such as walls made of old bicycle tires and wooden biscuit molds.

    13pm – Arrival at the ‘Lloyd hotel and cultural embassy'; the hotel used to be a youth prison and the owners have established a great collection of curiosa that give each part of the building its own atmosphere. Customized tours are available, but wondering around in this open hotel/’museum’ provides enough interesting stuff to discover on your own. Enjoy your lovely lunch in the hotel.

    14:30pm - After lunch enjoy a relaxed 15mins bike ride to probably Hollands coolest fashion store Nukuhiva. Founded in 2006 by Dutch tv personality and travel journalist Floortje Dessing, Nukuhiva offers you fashionable and special brands like “2thirds” (10% of margin is used to preserve oceans), “Kuyichi” (Fairtrade, organic jeans made from used jeans) and “Veja” (buys organic cotton at around twice the market price from 320 farmer families in North-Brazil). That’s the real good and green Amsterdam.

    15:15pm - You’ll arrive at Brouwerij ’t IJ, the city’s brewery and you’re just in time for an English tour around the brewery. As you’ll learn, it’s difficult to produce beer in a sustainable way (read more about the Dutch and their beer) but with making their delicious beers only available on draft in their own beer garden this location is screaming for a visit.

    It’s already time for dinner and what else than a good handmade and conscious hamburger after a couple of beers? Choose a big burger or a trio of mini burgers, with a delicious freshly made banana milkshake at The Burgermeester (translated as Master of burgers, as well as Mayor). This local chain with small locations all across Amsterdam makes it possible to always find one on your way to Amsterdam’s lively nightlife.

    All addresses that we’ve visited:

    Bicycle Hotel, Van Ostadestraat 123
    Charlie + Mary and The Proud Otter, Gerard Doustraat 84
    Lush, Leidsestraat 14
    Starbucks The Bank, Rembrandtplein - Utrechtsestraat 9
    Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy, Oostelijke Handelskade 34
    Nukuhiva, Haarlemmerstraat 36
    Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Funenkade 7
    Burgermeester, Elandsgracht 130

    All addresses can be found in globe’s first sustainable travel guides: Good & Green Guides. www.goodandgreenguides.com

  • Indulging in Cheese Samples at a Dutch Cheese Farm
    Heather Tucker, Monday, July 1, 2013

    We had been on the road for about an hour when on our left hand side a large farm came into view with the words ‘cheese’ and  ‘clogs’ crafted into the roof. “I think that might be it”, I announced to my friend who was sitting in the passenger seat.

    If the rooftop advertisement wasn’t enough of a hint then the plastic cow, gigantic yellow wooden shoe and the girl figurine holding a wheel of cheese was. We missed the turning for the parking and found ourselves face to face with a small group of dairy cows. They looked on in amusement as we turned around, dodged chickens, parked the car and walked past a pig to the entrance of the cheese farm.
    We had arrived when the shop was almost empty but that didn’t stop the staff, dressed in traditional costumes, from greeting us and uncovering all the cheese samples for us to try.

    The flavour combinations ranged from the more common flavours (e.g. smoked cheese and cheese with garden herbs) to the slightly more unique (e.g. piri-piri and smoked cheese with ham). As we nibbled and compared flavours, we worked hard to narrow down the selection to the ones we would buy. We were also invited into the cheese making room, which we readily accepted.

    The cheese had already been made for the day so there wasn’t too much to see but the steps and differences between the different types of cheese were explained to us and we had plenty of time for asking questions. We also learned how the cheese farm only makes cheese when they need it rather than making loads and then having it go off, resulting in it being thrown away.

    As a large coach filled with tourists rolled past the window, the lady invited us to stay for the clog making demonstration that would be taking place in about five minutes. We quickly grabbed our cheese selection and headed to the register to avoid the rush and then headed into the middle room to get a good seat for the demonstration.

    If you have never seen wooden shoes being made the old fashioned way then it is well worth seeing. The process was much shorter than we expected and rather impressive. In fact, it was so impressive that it almost changed my mind about buying a pair. Afterwards we gathered our purchases and headed back out to the car but not before taking a photo in the large wooden shoe. We just couldn’t resist.

  • Fancy some Dutch cheese?
    Ulrike Grafberger, Monday, June 10, 2013

    It’s very easy for us in Holland. If we have a craving for a piece of cheese, we simply walk into one of the many kaaswinkels (cheese shops), where rounds of Gouda tower up to the ceiling and there’s a lovely smell of cheese. Here we stock up on oude kaas (old cheese), buy a small round of boerenkaas (farmhouse cheese) and nibble the cheese cubes on display to check what they taste like. But what do you do if you get an insatiable craving for Dutch cheese when you’re in Berlin, London or Kopenhagen?

    The answer is simple: order the cheese of your choice online and have it delivered straight to your front door from Holland. Better still, from the Gouda Cheese Shop!  You can order delicious Gouda at all stages of maturity, farmhouse cheese, Beemster cheese, Old Amsterdam, Friesian clove cheese, caraway cheese and a lot of other types of cheese very easily from this cheese producer near Gouda. Even stroopwafels  (syrup waffles) and genuine Dutch cheese slicers are only one click away. Furthermore, a price comparison has revealed that the cheese from the Gouda Cheese Shop is no more expensive than the prices charged by Dutch supermarkets, and tastes all the better for it. I tested my order from the Gouda Cheese Shop together with diehard Dutch cheese connoisseurs. The verdict was unanimous: this cheese is in a class of its own.

    This is because the cheese comes from a family-run business that has been producing cheese according to age-old traditions since 1970 and then sells it on the markets of Flevoland. The company started an online delivery service a few years ago, which even cheese fans overseas are eager to use. To ensure that the cheese stays fresh, it is only cut on the day it is ordered, then vacuum packed and - in the summer months - dispatched with a  freezer pack. A few days later, a delicious piece of Holland lands on your table.

    And here are a few more cheese tips from Dutch insiders:

    1) The perfect accompaniment

    The Dutch prefer to eat their cheese with mustard and pickles. In other words, with (Amsterdam) silver-skin onions, gherkins and (coarse) mustard. The sweet combinations with fig puree or dried apricots are also very popular.

    2) The best drink

    My pal Peter from the drinks shop round the corner says: “A korenwijn (corn wine) or a humble gin has the most subtle taste. If you prefer something a little less strong, choose a Dutch beer such as Hertog Jan to accompany the Gouda. But wine goes with it, too, of course.”

    3) The perfect temperature

    Walter Peters from the Gouda Cheese Shop recommends taking the cheese out of the refrigerator half an hour before it is to be eaten to allow it to reach room temperature. When doing this, the cheese should not be opened, but kept wrapped.

    Now you have all the information you need, all that remains is to buy mustard, gherkins and beer and click through to the Gouda Cheese Shop. They deliver world wide- the shipping costs are very reasonable. And even the website is in English: www.goudacheeseshop.com

  • Step Inside the Dutch Windmills on Nationale Molendag
    Heather Tucker, Monday, June 3, 2013

    There are around 1000 old fashioned windmills in the Netherlands according to the VisitHolland website. And as icons go, the windmills tend to steal the show.

    Finding a windmill in the Netherlands is easy. You will spot them from the motorway, in the middle of many of the older cities and on location at the famous Kinderdijk. Getting inside one, however, is a little trickier. Luckily, on the second Saturday and Sunday of May, the Nationale Molendag allows you access to a large number of these historical power machines.

    Like many smaller events in the Netherlands, Nationale Molendag is not well advertised beforehand, so it is well worth marking the dates down in your agenda. A map on the website allows you to see which windmills are open and any special events they are planning. I quickly filtered the results to include windmills that would have bakery products and pancakes available. I mean, if you are going to visit a windmill you might as well add some food to the day - right?

    The downside was that this limited the number of windmills in my area but there was at least one – De Zwaluw in Gelderland - that was within a reasonable driving distance away.

    When out one window you see dark clouds and from another bright sunshine, you know it is going to be a crazy weather day and sure enough, as we pulled in front of the De Zwaluw it was chucking it down. We timed our run from the car to the double doors for a moment when the rain let up slightly meaning the puddle around our feet when we asked for a table was not as big as first feared.

    Inside a long hall filled with wooden chairs, tables and more knick knacks than an episode of American Pickers greeted us. We quickly found a table and ordered two of the best pancakes we had ever tasted – fluffy, light and warm. Outside the sun began to make another appearance, casting a strong shadow of the windmill blades on the ground as they whooshed round and round.

    Before we left we visited the bakery corner of the windmill where we could buy freshly ground flour, bread mixes and even cake mixes in a whole array of flavours.

    As we began our journey back we talked about the great pancake, the friendly atmosphere inside and our recent purchases. We had had a good day, that was for sure but did that mean Nationale Molendag was a huge success?

    For us, yes and no. Because of Nationale Molendag we found a new place to visit and a great pancake restaurant, but this particular windmill was not doing anything extra for the weekend. There was no tour, brass band or even a sign to indicate that it was anything more than another Saturday. Would that have been different elsewhere? Quite possibly. But unless we visit a new location next Molendag, we will never know.

  • Explore the Dutch Markets
    Heather Tucker, Sunday, May 12, 2013

    Antiques, bric-a-brac and books in Delft on Thursdays and Saturdays (April 12th - October 13th). The Albert Cuypmarkt, the Flower Market and the Waterlooplein Flea Market in Amsterdam. Tuesday and Saturdays in Rotterdam. The Haagse Markt in The Hague.

    Markets. There are plenty of them all over the Netherlands. Whether you are looking for fresh produce, exotic spices or someone else’s treasures - you’ll be able to find it. But there is one place in the Netherlands that has it all in one place. A location well known to locals but a little less familiar to tourists.

    De Bazaar in Beverwijk


    In existence since September 1980, De Bazaar has grown to become Europe’s largest covered market. After spending the day there, here are my top tips.

    • Opening Days: De Bazaar is open every Saturday and Sunday from 08:30 am to 6:00 pm. A small section of Hall 30 is also open on Fridays, as well as many of the nail studios there.
    • Parking: There is plenty of it and at 3 Euros per car, it is also pretty cheap. However, don’t forget where you parked - not only where in the car park but also which car park, as there are several. You will need to purchase your exit card from one of the machines before you leave.
    • Hand Stamp: It is possible that you will need to go in and out of the main grounds. Perhaps to put things in your car or just to get to one of the more outer parts of the market. To ensure you don’t have to pay the entry price again, make sure you get your hand stamped. This is available at any of the exits.
    • Small Change: It is handy to have some small change in your wallet, especially if you want to use the toilet facilities as these have a small fee.
    • Map: Once inside it is easy to find the market a bit disorientating. There are maps available at the entrance and around the market. You might want to grab one.
    • Cash: At most of the stands you will need to pay with cash. While a small number do accept cards, cash is king here. ATMs are found throughout the market but there are often long lines to use them.
    • Eat: Make sure you grab something to eat at one of the many food stands. The food is one of the market’s highlights.
    • Oosterse Markt: Don’t miss the large building that contains the Eastern Market for a mix of cultures and goodies.
    • Oriental Supermarket: The Oriental Supermarket is a great place to stock up on oriental products and find some international ones.
    • Room for Your Purchases: Whether you come by car or public transport make sure you have room for your purchases. Especially if you decide to buy one of the gigantic model animals.

    De Bazaar
    Montageweg 35
    1948 PH Beverwijk

  • Searching for Flowers at the World Famous Keukenhof
    Heather Tucker, Thursday, April 18, 2013

    It has been a cold year in the Netherlands. As I type this, less than 12 hours before the start of April, the sky outside is grey, the temperatures are chilly and there was even a spot of snow earlier. This isn’t the spring most people were imagining. It’s not the spring our flowers were expecting either.

    Normally around this time of year the tourist coaches arrive in full, spotting non-Dutch license plates on the motorways becomes even easier and the major cities have more people speaking other languages than normal. So what happens when one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country relies on the warmer weather?

    Keukenhof, located just 30 minutes away from Amsterdam, is a park 32 hectares wide with 15 kilometres of footpaths and usually is filled with more flowers than many people have seen in one place before. But just as the cold weather is affecting us humans, the weather has also taken its toll on the more than seven million bulbs that are planted there each year. I decided to head over to Keukenhof and see if I could find any flowers.

    Usually an early start to the day is a must for enjoying Keukenhof. Getting up with the birds helps to ensure that you can get a parking place and also gives you a few minutes where the park isn’t bursting at the seams with people. So the first thing I noticed when driving to the park, slightly later than planned, was the distinct lack of cars. In fact this was the first time I was able to drive past the overflow car-park and straight into the main one.

    The crowds were rather thin heading in but there were still plenty of people willing to brave the cold for some flowers. As I passed over the park threshold a lady selling food welcomed me, the street organ was in full song and crates of flowers lined the pathway. This wasn’t too bad, I remember thinking. But as I headed deeper into the park my heart sunk as I took in the distinct lack of flowers.

    Flower beds that I knew from previous visits to usually be full of tulips and other flowers in all colours of the rainbow were distinctly lacking. The few flowers that had started to pop out from under the soil looked like they were having second thoughts. The sun was out, the flowers just weren’t playing along. I soon joined the rest of the visitors in an intense game of “search for the flowers” and while I did find some sections that were starting to bloom, overall there was very little that was ready.

    But was a visit to Keukenhof in the days leading up to an Easter that was colder in temperature than Christmas a bad idea? That’s hard to say. To be honest, I really enjoyed the lack of crowds and the ability to wander around the park in peace. There was no pushing at the circle path that leads you out onto the lake, no line in the restaurants and I could take all the photos I liked. But then I also have the luxury of visiting Keukenhof another time, which many of its visitors do not. I tried to think about what was better, seeing the park and its potential without crowds but also without flowers or not seeing the park at all. It was a hard decision and one that I continued to ponder as I headed into one of the multiple pavilions, something I openly admit to usually skipping on previous trips.

    Inside, the building was bursting with flowers. Flowers that had been warm enough to bloom and that didn’t look like they had a better and warmer place to be. As I looked around, I felt the familiar bump of someone in a hurry to get to the next section of flowers and I apologised as I walked into someone else’s photo. What Keukenhof was missing outside, had somehow been recreated inside even down to the cheesy photos being taken of people with their heads in amongst the flowers.

    Did the pavilion filled with flowers make up for all those missing outside? Well no, but then Keukenhof doesn’t have much control over Mother Nature. Yes, it was disappointing to see section after section of brown and I can only imagine how it felt if this was your only chance to visit, but if you still want to see Keukenhof, go ahead and go. Just set your expectations correctly and be prepared to head inside to glimpse the full flower experience.

    N.B. Keukenhof has a section on the front of their website entitled “Flowering Status”. If you want to know what the current situation is with the flowers, this is a good place to start.

  • A walk on the beach in Scheveningen
    Ulrike Grafberger, Tuesday, April 16, 2013

    When there’s a real storm and as a southern German, I’d like to curl up with a good book on the sofa, a Dutchman would prefer to go to the beach for “lekker uitwaaien” (a breath of fresh air). What doesn’t work for me at all is “lekker” (breath of) and “uitwaaien” (fresh air). Because “uitwaaien” (fresh air) means going to the beach in at least a cold force 6 wind with sand flying everywhere. So “Uitwaaien” also means nothing other than having the wind swirling round your head.

    Exfoliation free of charge on the beach

    On a cold, stormy Sunday in a force 9 to 10 wind, I was talked into going onto the beach at Scheveningen. I thought it wouldn’t have occurred to anyone else to rush towards the white flurry of foaming sand and sea. But far from it. A real mass migration was taking place there and then on the beach: a crowd of people wanting to feel the wind in their faces. Force 9 wind means: It’s pretty uncomfortable and standing still in a wind speed of 75 kilometres an hour is difficult, as is walking against the wind. What’s more, there’s free facial exfoliation as well as red cheeks and nose.
    So we walk bravely along the beach against the wind. Grains of sand in your eyes, between your teeth, in your hair and ears. Bits of foam fly around everywhere, spreading over the beach. But I have to admit: my head is given a blast of fresh air.

    Warming up with Chocomel

    But the best thing on a beach walk like this is warming up afterwards. When the so-called “beach tents”, in other words the refreshment stalls, are set up (between March and October), then of course it’s at its best. And when it’s stormy outside, the hot chocolate (Chocomel) tastes particularly good. For anyone who wants to retreat into a less stormy environment, I can recommend the following restaurants on the Scheveningen harbour: There’s freshly caught fish at Simonis (20 Visafslagweg). Admittedly, this is not a cosy restaurant for a romantic dinner for two, but an oversized fishing-warehouse in which the dishes are called out over loudspeakers. Nevertheless: you can’t eat fish more authentically than in Scheveningen. And it’s relatively cheap too.

    Freshly brewed beer and good wine

    Anyone wanting to enjoy a stylish menu of star-level quality, on the other hand – with the finest and freshest fish, of course – will be in good hands at Mero’s (61e Vissershavensweg, on the first harbour). While the approach is more down to earth at Simonis, you’re waited on expertly and with great charm here. Wines are served that complement the fish, but meat lovers and vegetarians can all find something to suit them too. Would you rather just have a beer and a few Dutch “bitterballen? Then you’re in for a surprise: Scheveningen Harbours brews its own beer. Fourteen types of beer are produced year-round with the purest dune-filtered water, so not all the beers are always in stock. “Frisse Wind” and “Schevenings Triple” are classics. The beer lovers’ paradise is Brouwcafé (28 Doctor Lelykade) and is situated directly on Scheveningen’s second harbour - with a fantastic view of the ships.

    So when there’s another storm, first go “uitwaaien”, or get a breath of fresh air on the beach, then go and eat fish on the harbour – and enjoy a blustery day to the full.

  • How do the Dutch live?
    Ulrike Grafberger, Thursday, April 11, 2013

    To be honest: looking into someone else’s living room and seeing how they live is very interesting. And in Holland, you don’t even have to peer through the keyhole to do this. No, the curtains in the houses are usually wide open so that you don’t even need to do anything other than shamelessly cast a glance into the domestic idyll as you pass by.

    So I’m not the only one looking through other people’s windows. I’m also an open book for my neighbours opposite. Thanks to our large window, they know everything about me. They know that I always clean on a Sunday, that I sit for too long in front of my computer in the evenings and that my mother-in-law was visiting.

    No curtains, no blinds. The Dutch custom allegedly goes back to Calvinism. Honest citizens have nothing to hide and with open curtains, everyone can be assured that others are honest too.

    No curtains and large windows

    But why are the windows in Holland so big that you can still share in the details of others’ lives? The architect Simone Gorosics explains: “On the one hand, many windows are what are known as verhuisramen, in other words removable windows. If you want to move house, you can remove windows like these completely and lift furniture out through the window. That’s why there’s also very often a hook for the hoist hanging from the gable of the house. Because the steps into Dutch houses are usually narrow and steep, you can’t get a cupboard up them.”

    “Another reason is that of structure and cost. Window glass is much cheaper than stone. Particularly for previous single glazing. It’s different today. Insulation and thermal protection glazing are making windows expensive again. So you hardly see any windows as big as this any more in new builds.”

    The sky’s the limit...

    We were very lucky therefore with our house built in 1912: the windows are large, as is the through lounge. But the rest of a Dutch house is in miniature only. The toilets are so small that when you sit down, your knees are squashed up against the toilet door. And the kitchens are so cramped that you’d rather not cook a big spread and give priority instead to frozen foods. There are usually no lofts and basements at all and the washing machine, clothes horses and mineral water crates therefore have to be accommodated in the rooms of the home. Nor is there enough space for stairwells and with their extremely small steps that take only half your foot, they therefore lead you almost vertically upstairs.

    But this constriction makes you creative. You build upwards. Bunk beds are popular and the dryer doesn’t usually stand next to the washing machine, but above it. My favourite is the pulley in the entrance area for hoisting your bicycle up as far as the board ceiling so that you can walk straight through underneath it. And then if everything’s still not been cleared up, you can make do by building another storey - up on the flat roof.

    ... or on water

    Another option for overcoming the constant lack of space in Holland (the Netherlands are the most densely populated country in Europe), is a small place on the water. A house boat is the solution. There are 2,500 house boats in Amsterdam alone, but they can also be found in Leiden, The Hague, Rotterdam and other Dutch cities. In all, there are around 10,000 legal and highly coveted house boat moorings available in Holland. Living on the water – despite the damp and grey, animal neighbours in the water – promises a very special lifestyle on the water, almost a year-round holiday feeling. And who wouldn’t want that?

  • Carnival: Party Like You Have the Keys to the City
    Heather Tucker, Thursday, March 28, 2013

    There are a few occasions when arriving in the Netherlands can be a bit...well...unusual. Take for example noon on the first Monday of each month. This is the time when the air raid sirens, now used for public emergencies, are tested. Or New Year’s Eve when the whole country sounds like it is exploding because of the “home” fireworks which are temporarily legal. And then there is Queen’s Day (soon to be known as King’s Day), where everyone and everything is covered in orange and taking part in a gigantic party.

    Yes, arrive during any one of these events and you might find yourself frozen to the spot in amusement (or confusion!). And if your holiday takes you to one of the more southern provinces in the week before Ash Wednesday, then we need to add another event to the list – carnival.

    Every year in February, carnival is celebrated in Brabant, Limburg and South Gelderland. There are some celebrations in other parts of the country, like Groningen and Friesland, but the festival is celebrated primarily in the Catholic regions of the southern provinces.

    Despite the early start some revellers take advantage of, carnival officially begins after the mayor hands the symbolic keys of the city over to the Carnival Prince. The Carnival Prince is named on November 11th (the 11th of the 11th being the day of fools). From then until February, the Council of Eleven (Raad van Elf) is busy with carnival preparations. Once the keys have been handed over until Ash Wednesday, the Prince and his subjects live it up – dancing, drinking and singing – in their temporary kingdom of fools.

    Another aspect not to miss is the carnival parades, featuring decorated cars and extravagantly designed floats. Great secrecy and effort goes into the floats and they are a real highlight of the festival.

    No carnival is complete without some fancy dress but remember, it’s cold in the Netherlands during February, so forget bare flesh and colourful scanty costumes and think more along the lines of unusual warm clothing and humorous hats.

    No matter what you wear, carnival is the time to put your worries aside, play the fool and party like you have the keys to the city.

  • Easter in Holland
    Ulrike Grafberger, Thursday, March 21, 2013

    I've been asking around: Marielle is inviting friends and family over for an Easter brunch. Susan's going to church first, then to the Easter market with the whole family. Jaap's going to listen to the St Matthew Passion and Janneke's looking forward to a trip to the furniture shopping mall. Just a minute – looking forward to what?

    Spending Easter among armchairs and sofas

    Spending Easter Monday in a furniture shop is actually a tradition in Holland. Or rather, in what is known as a “Meubelboulevard”, or furniture shopping mall. There is a furniture shopping mall, for instance, in Groningen. It combines 32 furniture shops under one roof: bed shops, kitchen shops, a garden centre, furnishing companies – everything anyone needs for their house or apartment. And a glance at the website shows that on Easter Monday, the furniture shopping mall is even holding a "Woonshow" (Lifestyle show) day, open from 10 am until 5 pm. The Alexandrium furniture shopping mall in Rotterdam will attract around 15,000 visitors on an Easter Monday. Why is that? Do bedside cabinets suddenly fall apart in the Spring, are mattresses no longer well sprung, do red wine stains suddenly mark that white sofa?

    The furniture shopping craze at Easter has been going on since the 1980s. Because people have time on Easter Monday and often have nothing better to do (it's all over and done with on Easter Sunday), they call into a furniture shop. Ikea & Co. also lure customers into their stores on Easter Monday with irresistible promotions. The unintentional side effect, however, is traffic flow regulation, crowds and queues. So perhaps it's better to stay at home and "click eggs"?

    Eitje tik (Egg-clicking)

    Banging hard-boiled eggs against each another is a typically Dutch custom. And this is what happens: two people each take a hard-boiled egg and hit the pointed ends against each other. Whoever's egg cracks first has lost. This Easter custom is so widespread that there are even tips on how to win circulating on the Internet, such as: "move very quickly towards your opponent, but then stop so that at the very last moment, your opponent's egg hits your egg with its full force. There's a good chance your opponent's egg will break."

    According to the Easter statistics provided by the Dutch Boulevard Telegraaf newspaper, 92 per cent of Dutch Easter eggs "click". Around 40 per cent of the Dutch go on Easter egg hunts. However, the Dutch don't appear to take actually finding the eggs so seriously: around a third of those who go on the hunt don't retrieve all the hidden eggs. So if there's a place in your house or garden that smells of rotten eggs in the summer, it could be a leftover from Easter.

    Dutch Easter records

    In Holland, too  – particularly in the East and North – the tradition of the Easter eve bonfire is a familiar one. They've even set a major record: the hamlet of Espelo with around 370 residents, located in the Dutch province of Overijssel, had the biggest Easter eve bonfire in the world in 2012. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it was 45.98 metres high.

    There's also an entirely different record-breaking tradition: the tradition of the Passions. In no other country in the world is the St Matthew Passion as popular as it is in Holland. And thousands of the Dutch go on pilgrimage at Easter to churches and concert halls to follow in music the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Young people find this long-standing tradition less attractive. They prefer to go the mega Easter concert called "Paaspop" (Easter pop) in North Brabant. This doesn't last just three hours, like the St Matthew Passion, but three whole days. And here, too, a new record has been set: this Easter event attracted 51,000 visitors last year.

  • 5 Tips for Visiting Volendam as a Group
    Heather Tucker, Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    It was bitterly cold when we arrived in Volendam. Despite the temperatures being already low, it was the wind sweeping in off of the Ijsselmeer that was the real culprit.

    We weren’t going to let it deter us though. We were here for historical costumes, cheese, fish and traditional Dutch scenes. Because in this old fishing village, playing the role of the tourist is what it is all about – and as a group is even more fun.

    With around 22,000 inhabitants, Volendam is not a town you are likely to get lost in. But to ensure that you get the most out of your time, here are five (group) activities to add to your plans:

    1.    Have a photo taken in historical costume.

    You’ve probably seen one of these before – big skirts, funny hats and lots of props. You’ll have the layers piled on top of your existing clothes by nimble hands that have clearly done this many times before. Then you and your friends will be modelled into the perfect old-time scene.  You’ll pay more per person in your group but this is one photo that you won’t want to go home without. Period costume photographers are located all along the dike.

    2.    Eat.

    Whether you choose to be served on dishes straight out of an old-fashioned cupboard by staff in period costumes at Restaurant de Koe (The Cow) or to hunker around large tables at Volendam’s equivalent of the Cheers bar, Grand Café Charleston – eating is a must. It goes without saying that being a fisher’s village – seafood is going to be a good choice.

    3.    Take the ferry to nearby Marken.

    It might seem unusual that a post about visiting Volendam would suggest leaving it but this former island (a causeway now links the island to the mainland) in the Zuiderzee is the perfect location for snapping photos of characteristic wooden houses, exploring the Marken Museum and learning about the art of making wooden shoes. Separated from the mainland after a storm surge in the 13th century, Marken lets you time travel even further back in time than Volendam does. The journey will take you about 30 minutes aboard the Marken Express.

    4.    Visit the museum.

    The Volendams Museum on Zeestraat 41 is the perfect location to delve into the history that makes Volendam the interesting place to visit that it is. Even if your group isn’t made up of hardcore museum goers, there is bound to be something amongst the old interiors, traditional costumes and historical items that will grab your interest.

    5.    Purchase some cheese.

    There are possibilities for you to purchase real Dutch cheese both inside and outside town. The Cheese Factory Volendam, located at Haven 25, which opened at the end of 2012 has demonstrations, a museum and plenty of taste-testing opportunities.

    **Please note that not all things are open in Volendam during the colder months, so it is always best to check the relevant websites. This includes the Marken Express and the museums.

  • Holland’s skating tradition
    Ulrike Grafberger, Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    It’s strange: in a country known for its maritime climate and the mild winters associated with it, skating is one of the most popular sports. Although people settle for artificial ice and ice rinks, the Dutch, however, find true happiness on natural ice: on frozen canals, lakes and ponds, streams and channels.

    So where does this love of ice and silver blades come from? I go looking for it and discover that there is even a schaatshistoricus in Holland, an historian whose specialism is the history of ice skating. His name is Marnix Koolhaas, and he willingly and kindly provides me with information.

    Ice skating as a popular pastime

    According to Marnix Koolhaas, one of the reasons for the Dutch enthusiasm for ice skating lies in the Reformation: “When Calvinism was on the rise in Holland in the 16th century, many Catholic festivals were abolished, including Carnival. Ice skating took the place of these festivals. People felt free and independent on the ice, and were able to escape for a short time from the strict standards and laws. The festivals then started taking place on the ice.”

    And Marnix told me something else: “In Holland, there was what was referred to as verzuiling, the  ´pillarising´ of society – categorizing citizens under separate so-called ´pillars´. Both private and social life were played out in a person´s own ‘pillar’ (Protestant, Catholic, Social-Democratic or liberal). This is why, even today, there is still a Catholic football club in Amsterdam. Only ice skating was never pillarised. All are equal on the ice – regardless of which religious community or political party they belong to. And so there’s no Catholic ice skating club either.” You have fun on the ice and feel free – that makes sense to me. There’s another reason, however, why the Dutch have ice skating in their blood. Not only can you do pirouettes on skates, but you can also cover longdistances

    Going to visit Grandma and Grandpa, using a mop

    Why does ice skating play such a major role in Holland? My mother-in-law is Frisian, not an East Frisian, but a Dutch Frisian. And she should know something about it, it’s true, because the world-renowned Eleven Cities Tour, i.e. the tour on ice skates through eleven Frisian towns, passes more or less right past the door to her house. She told me the following story from her childhood: “As soon as we were able to walk, we children had to be put on the ice. In those days we still had wooden runners with a piece of iron underneath. It was very important for us at that time to be able to move about on the ice. We only had one bicycle in the family, and when we wanted to visit relations, we sometimes had to cover a distance of five kilometres. That’s some journey, particularly for children. When I was six years old, we used to visit Grandma and Grandpa in the winter by travelling over a frozen canal. My parents took the mop and removed the attachment with the fringes so that only the stick was left. With it we went onto the ice. Mum and Dad skated on ahead, holding the stick at one end while I held on to the other. And when I was no longer able to keep skating myself, I simply let myself be pulled along.”

    “Als het vriest, smelten de Hollanders en de Friezen”

    Marnix bevestigt het verhaal van mijn schoonmoeder:
    “In de winter, als het water bevroor, voelde iedereen die geen zeilboot of paard had zich echt vrij.”
    Het sociale leven en de familiebanden kwamen in Holland pas echt tot leven wanneer de natuur zijn winterslaap in ging.

    En vandaag de dag? Als je de Hollanders op het ijs ziet, is het op hun gezicht af te lezen: pure lol en vrijheid. Zelfs de jongsten scheren over het ijs. En wie weet, misschien komt er weer snel een winter waarin we over het ijs bij oma op bezoek kunnen.

  • Flower fields
    Ulrike Grafberger, Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    Keukenhof is an institution in Holland. And nearly 800,000 visitors a year can’t be wrong! However: these 800,000 visitors are spread over just eight weeks, which means  100,000 visitors a week. And this all adds up to quite a lot of tourists in one place: Dutch, Germans, Italians, Japanese, Americans. A glorious mix of nationalities hops out of the buses arriving at Keukenhof from mid-March to mid-May, taking oodles of photos among the tulips and daffodils.
    It’s no wonder that Keukenhof is one of Holland’s most popular photo sites.

    Now I don’t want to be unfair: Keukenhof is definitely that. After all, there is presumably no other place on earth so overloaded with tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. Every year seven million flower bulbs are once again planted in the outdoor flower beds, to produce this spectacle. Only one thing is for sure: you don’t get Keukenhof to yourself and, what’s more, a visit at 15 Euros per person leaves its mark. There is, however, another way...

    Tulips, as far as the eye can see

    All around Keukenhof, and in the general area of Lisse, there are countless flower fields full of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. We therefore set out to find the most beautiful spots. Thanks to Herman van Amsterdam and his website “Bollenveldenradar” (“Flower Fields Radar”), we knew exactly when and where the flowers are at their most beautiful.

    And these are the tips fromHerman, the tulip region’s ambassador, who takes tours every day through the tulip fields. Here you will find the most beautiful flower fields:

    In Lisse:
    Zwartelaan, Essenlaan, Loosterweg-Zuid and Herenweg (the area between Engelbewaarderskerk and Ruine van Dever)

    In Hillegom:
    Veenenburgerlaan, Zuider Leidsevaart and Derde Loosterweg

    In Noordwijkerhout:
    Herenweg and Westeinde

    De Zilk:
    Zilkerbinnenweg

    Just enter the town and street into your satnav and then ... you’ll be looking at flowers as far as the eye can see.

    When is the flowering period?

    I should add one more thing: the flowers don’t blossom at the same time every year.
    Flowering usually begins in mid-March, but depends on the temperatures. The following photos were taken at the beginning of April. What impressed me most, in addition to the vast number of flowers, was mainly the unbelievable fragrance. Just standing in a field of hyacinths like this – no perfume in the world can compare with it!

    Then to Lisse for refreshments

    We’ve now saved our money that we would have spent on Keukenhof. We could now invest it in an evening meal. Herman van Amsterdam, a native of the region, also gives us the tip to visit the restaurant De Vier Seizoenen (“The Four Seasons”) in Lisse. A glance at the restaurant’s menu reveals: seasonal dishes are in fact being served, such as a three-course Meal of the Month. There are also vegetarian and gluten-free meals. If you prefer Chinese or Italian food, this can also be found in Lisse.

  • A Romantic Meal for a Romantic Date
    Heather Tucker, Thursday, February 14, 2013

    Love is in the air, even here in Holland. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, flowers are being selected and small gifts are being wrapped.

    Delfts Blue kisses

    In general Valentine’s Day is not celebrated with as much gusto as in many other countries but a romantic meal out is becoming more and more popular.

    With so many restaurants available, especially in the bigger cities, it can be hard to choose where to go. Here are a few spots you might want to take a look at.

    Utrecht

    De Zakkendrager

    When people talk about this restaurant, words like “gem”, “hidden” and “atmospheric” are often used. Steeped in history, the front part of the restaurant was known as the Guildhall of Bag Carriers (Gildehuis der Zakkendragers), an important part of a larger complex for the guild of transporters, from which the restaurant gets its name. Behind the restaurant is a walled English garden. Inside, the menu is ample and features a generous vegetarian selection.

    • Address: Zakkendragerssteeg 26, 3511 AA, Utrecht 
    • Opening Times: Daily from 12-11pm 
    • Telephone: +31 (0) 30 23 17 578

    Haarlem

    Fris Restaurant

    With a focus on organic and local products, you can be certain that the dishes on the ever-changing menu are going to be full of flavour. The food at Fris is inspired by “French international cuisine enriched with culinary interpretations of Dutch dishes”. Prices can be a little more than what some people might want to spend for a dinner out but Valentine’s Day arrangements are on offer.

    • Address: Twijnderslaan 7, 2012 BG, Haarlem 
    • Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm 
    • Telephone: +31 (0) 23 53 10 717
    Herengracht Amsterdam by night

    Amsterdam

    De Belhamel

    It is the views of the Herengracht and the Art Nouveau interior that really steal the show at De Belhamel. Serving French and Italian inspired dishes, you and your date will be swept back to the romantic early 20th century – Parisian style.

    • Address: Brouwersgracht 60, 1013 GX, Amsterdam 
    • Opening Times: Lunch daily from 12-4pm; Dinner – Sunday to Thursday, 6-10pm and Friday to Saturday, 6-10:30pm 
    • Telephone: +31 (0) 20 62 21 095

    Heather Tucker is a travel writer and blogger originally from the USA, www.cloggiecentral.com

  • Escape to the Country
    Heather Tucker, Sunday, December 9, 2012

    I tend to over pack for trips and my visit to a Belvilla holiday home was no exception. As I filled the car with clothes, food and bags of things I wanted to get done – both relaxing things and work related ones – I had visions of my new neighbours laughing as I attempted to drag everything inside. What I didn’t know was that those neighbours would be non-existent.

    Buitenlevenhuisje is located near the small town of Beesd in Gelderland, a province in the middle of the Netherlands. The property is situated on a land estate that has its own Baroness. The sounds of the city quickly disappeared as I drove through the estate’s regal looking gates and down a walnut tree lined road before turning left to find my cottage complete with a thatched roof. There would be no one laughing at all the items I was going to pull from the car, because I had no neighbours – unless you counted the trees and countryside.

    Fifteen minutes later I was given the keys, received a tour of my “new home” and was left to settle in – and settle in I did. The pleasure of holiday home living is quite extensive, and that is coming from a self-confessed hotel lover. Here are seven pleasures that were highlighted during my stay:

    1. Being able to cook: I love cooking and the large, fully equipped kitchen helped me to channel my own inner cooking goddess.

    2. Not worrying about housekeeping showing up: I’m a night owl, so that means I like to sleep-in in the mornings. Unless I stick the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the hotel room door, I tend to be woken up by the well-meaning (and much appreciated) housekeeping staff. No worry of that at a holiday home, which meant more sleep for me.

    3. Not paying extra for everything: I really valued not having to pay extra for using the internet, the washing machine or every time I wanted a drink.

    4. Living in a decluttered, well-decorated home: I hit the jackpot on this one because not only was the house free from clutter (until I moved in), it had been decorated with vibrant colours, unique furniture pieces and homely accessories.

    5. Getting to relax: I actually ran out of time for this one. I wanted to relax in the large bathtub, watch movies in the TV room, lounge on the sofa reading a book, switch to the other sofa to continue reading my book, cook in the gigantic kitchen and follow one of the four walking routes around the estate. But there are only so many hours in a day.

    6. Going exploring: I explored the town of Beesd, the local pancake house, the shop filled with jams, chutneys and other goodies made from produce harvested on the estate and even wandered around taking photos.

    7. Finding somewhere new: I had heard of Gelderland many times and I probably could have found Beesd by chance but there is no way I would have known about Heerlijkheid Mariënwaerdt without staying in the holiday home. Not only did I find it but I also got to explore it with the perfect base to return to each night.

    I stayed on my own in the fall/winter, which was perfect but the holiday home would also be ideal for staying at with family or a group of friends and man would I like to see that place in the spring and summer. In fact, I’m already looking forward to the warmer months by consulting my diary and planning another stay.

    Heather Tucker stayed at the Buitenlevenhuisje through Belvilla as part of her role as a Holland Ambassador with the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions.