Gapers in Nederland

These strange looking heads are known as gapers. A gaper is a stone or mahogany wooden head mounted on the front of a building in the Netherlands, used since the late 16th century to indicate that inside the store is a pharmacy.  At this time, not everyone could read and write, so this was a convenient way to indicate what type of store was inside. In addition, it was also a quality indicator for the store. Only the best pharmacies would have the gaper on display out front.

A ‘gaper’ is sometimes referred to as a ‘yawner’ due to the fact that the figure always has an open mouth. Actually, he isn’t yawning, but rather opening his mouth to take medicine. Sometimes you can see a pill resting on his tongue. The grimace of many gapers is said to be due to the bad taste of the medicine.

Nowadays these gapers are rare. Outside of museums, fewer than 50 can be seen on buildings in the Netherlands. Most of the surviving gapers are almost all of Moorish or ‘exotic’ in appearance (dark skin, turbans, bright clothes etc.) which actually indicated the exotic origin of the medicines. At that time there was a fondness for exotic things from Turkey, China, Japan, and Africa; spices from these countries were highly valued and therefore imported by the Europeans. Some of the older gapers now in museums, also have white faces.


This Gaper is located on the front of the ‘Van der Pigge’ Chemist in Haarlem (this chemist declined to move for a new V&D department store in 1932, so can still be seen in Haarlem today.


The Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen has an interesting collection of original gapers on display.


Does your local chemist still have a gaper out front?



Beschuit met Muisjes

Today I met my friend’s adorable little daughter. As is tradition here in the Netherlands, I was served pink muisjes on a beschuit (rusk biscuit) to celebrate the birth of a girl. Blue muisjes are served to guests when a baby boy is born.


Muisjes are made of aniseeds with a sugared and colored outer layer. Muisjes, meaning “little mice” in Dutch, are named because the anise seed sprinkles are shaped like little mice, with the stem of the anise seed resembling a tail.


As early as the 17th century, the parents of a newborn baby gave away beschuit with a layer of butter and muisjes to the baby’s visitors. Up until the 20th century, only white muisjes were available. It wasn’t until later that the pink and blue colours were introduced. Muisjes became a tradition and were initially given to new mothers as the anise in the muisjes was thought to stimulate lactation, and they symbolized fertility.


Beschuit with muisjes are now so popular, that not only are they given to the baby’s family and visitors at home, but they are also commonly taken to school by older siblings to share, or are presented to colleagues at work. Every supermarket in the Netherlands sells boxes of muisjes. “De Ruijter” have been making them since 1860 and is currently the only brand that produces muisjes. It is so lovely to see this tradition continuing on today.

Do you like the taste?




The bitter-sweet truth to calling home

When you get homesick, you really get homesick. You literally can’t do anything but wait until it passes… and sometimes calling home just makes it worse.

I must admit, I call home less often to avoid that inevitable feeling of sadness I experience afterwards. I love my parents so much, but now in addition to the guilt I feel for leaving them, there is guilt for not calling more frequently. I call on average about once a month. I know its not often enough. The honest truth is, speaking to them is always bitter-sweet. I enjoy every moment of it, but at the same time, it reminds me just how much I miss them.

Consequently, rather than call more often as I should, I end up calling less frequently to avoid the overwhelming sadness that follows the moment the conversation ends. This sadness no doubt stems from the disconnection and loss I feel due to the fact that my entire family are on the other side of the world. Over the past five years, I have only been able to get back home once and I guess that is taking it’s toll. I miss them all so much it hurts. But it was my choice to leave and I need to find a way to deal with these feelings.

So in order to feel less disconnected, maybe I should bite the bullet and call home more often. Will this be the solution to easing the twelve hours of depression that always follows a phone call back home? How often do you call home? Do you feel better or worse afterwards?


Happy Dutch Music Festivals

Music makes me happy. As it does most people I’m sure. Particularly live music, I can’t get enough of it. I could stand and listen to a band play for hours on end with a massive smile on my face the entire time. This inevitably led me to love music festivals, and the Dutch sure know how to put on the perfect festival.  The thing I love most about the festivals here, aside from the music, is that everyone is happy. As soon as the people enter the festival, they leave all problems and stress behind them. The atmosphere is oozing with positive vibes and everyone becomes friend of all. Violent behaviour is no where to be seen. Only happy and content people, enjoying the moment to the max.

With the worlds best DJ’s being Dutch, such as Tiesto, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren, it’s not surprising that the Dutch love their dance music with a passion. It plays a massive part in their culture. In addition to the many internationally succesful DJs, and rock icons such as Golden Earring, there are so many other Dutch artists that you need to know about, such as Kensington, Blof, Kane, Racoon, Mr.Probz, and Anouk just to name a few.

In true Dutch style, every festival in the Netherlands is a reason to celebrate and party. The music festival season in the Netherlands begins at Easter and runs until Autumn. There are hundreds of festivals throughout the country every year, but I would like to tell you about several of the most popular.


Paaspop, Schijndel (Noord-Brabant)

The first festival of the season, Paaspop is held each year during the long Easter weekend (Paas is the Dutch word for Easter). After the long winter, Paaspop is just what the doctor ordered. This festival has been running for just over forty years. It began as a one day event on Easter Sunday, and was then extended to three days in 2011. There are several large circus tents set up, with live music in each. You can wander from tent to tent, finding the music that you enjoy most from rock to pop to dance and more. Each year this festival attracts around 50,000 visitors.


Pinkpop, Landgraaf (Limburg)

Pinkpop was typically held on the Pentecost weekend (Pinksteren in Dutch, hence the name), but now occurs around the beginning of June. This rock festival would have to be the most famous open-air festival in the Netherlands and Europe’s longest running uninterrupted outdoor pop festival. There are four large stages and this festival attracts very popular artists from all music genres. This festival now runs for three days (Sat-Mon) and there is space for 60,000 attendees per day. They decided to only sell 60,000 tickets for each day to prevent overcrowding due to the popularity of the festival. In the last forty years, Pinkpop tickets have sold out over twenty times. There are also four large camp sites giving enough room for around 50,000 campers to stay and party on until the end! You can buy day tickets or three day passes.


Parkpop, The Hague (South Holland)

This pop music festival is an unusual one, as it is free!  It takes place annually in the Zuider park on the last Sunday of June. In 2015, Parkpop celebrated it’s 35th anniversary and up until recently, it was the largest free pop festival in Europe (today that is Przystanek Woodstock in Poland). Parkpop nowadays attracts on average 200,000 visitors! Yet it doesn’t feel overcrowded thanks to the fact that the festival is spread out across the large park, with two to three main stages. My husband and I have been four times; one year there were 350,000 attendees! Every year, Parkpop is a great success with a great atmosphere for both young and old. The sun is usually always shining for this festival, and what’s better than listing to some good music in the sunshine, with a cold beer in your hand? It will cost you nothing to go after all, so what’s stopping you?

Dance Valley, Velsen-Zuid (North Holland)

Love dance music? Then a visit to the Dance Valley festival is a must. Held every year in August for the last 21 years, this is the oldest dance festival in the Netherlands and one of the top dance festivals in Europe. This festival, located between Haarlem and Beverwijk, conjures up various dance music styles. While Dance Valley is a pure dance-music event, it caters to a wide audience by not limiting itself to a specific style though it’s heart (as with most Dutch events) is trance. The main stage is reserved for the big names in mainstream dance music. There are also up to a dozen secondary, smaller stages dedicated to styles such as electro, Eurodance, hardstyle and experimental. Dance Valley is also a three day event with camping available. As they say, “We provide the sounds, you provide the energy!”.


Lowlands, Biddinghuizen (Flevoland)

This festival is so much more than a music festival. Although the main focus is on music – rock, pop, dance, hip hop and alternative – Lowlands also offers indoor and outdoor cinemas, theatre, cabaret, dancers, and literature. This three day music and performing arts festival has been held each year in August since 1993. Lowlands is attended by around 55,000 visitors, spread over 200 acts and more than ten stages. The majority of stages are inside huge tents – insurance against the Netherlands climate – with the main stage’s tent being approximately the size of a football field.


I realise that there are so many more festivals in the Netherlands than those above, these are just a few. What festival is your personal favourite? Which artist did you see live that remains as your all time highlight to date?

Unfortunately, I did not wear ear protection in my teens and twenties, and now have tinnitus in one ear. But I will continue to enjoy live music (with earplugs) and plan to attend another festival this month.

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Keep on enjoying the music!


Vermeer Comes Home

The painting, ‘The Little Street’ (or ‘Het Straatje’) by Johannes Vermeer is one of the Rijksmuseum’s top pieces and is rarely loaned out to other museums. Due to an extraordinary cooperation between the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, this masterpiece can now be seen at the Prinsenhof until July 17th 2016. After almost 350 years, this world famous painting has now returned to where Vermeer actually painted it around the year 1660!



This painting is remarkable for it’s time. It is a portrait of ordinary houses, but the composition is as exciting as it is balanced. The old walls with their bricks, whitewash, and cracks – possibly due to the explosion of 1654 – are almost tangible. Vermeer’s aunt lived in the house on the right, together with her children and grandchildren for almost thirty years until her death in 1670.

 The Prinsenhof Museum in Delft highlights the painting beautifully, by combining it with the other top pieces from the Vermeer collection…

Other famous Vermeer masterpieces such as The Girl with a Pearl Earring and A View of Delft can be seen at the Mauritshuis Museum in Den Haag. I was happy to see a copy of my favourite Vermeer painting at a Bed & Breakfast I stayed at recently, but I do hope to visit the elegant Mauritshuis to see the real deal in the near future.


Some 35 works by Johannes Vermeer have survived worldwide, yet Delft, the city where the painter lived and worked his entire life, does not own any of his works. It has been at least 60 years since a Vermeer piece was last exhibited in Delft.

The locations that are associated with Vermeer and ‘The Little Street’ painting are all in the vicinity of Museum Prinsenhof Delft. After a visit to the museum, you can literally follow in Vermeer’s footsteps. With a special free downloadable App, you can follow walking routes throughout the city, highlighting locations that inspired his paintings, bringing Vermeer’s Delft to life.

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Then and Now. Location Comparison in Delft

At the Prinsenhof museum in Delft, you will also learn all about Willem van Oranje and the Spanish invasions in the Netherlands. You may even see the bullet holes, still visible in the wall, where Willem van Orange was allegedly murdered.


This little museum is charming and definitely worth a visit, particularly while the Vermeer exhibition is still on display. Designate a few hours to visit the Prinsenhof and learn about the rich history and devastating wars, which inevitably enabled us to now live peacefully in this country we now call home.


Free Fruit for Kids

Since last year, supermarkets around the world began giving away free fruit to children when grocery shopping with their parents. What a great initiative! Recently, people became much more aware of this idea when the below photo went viral on social media..

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Millions of Facebook users liked or shared the photo. Never have I been more appreciative of this great initiative as I was today. On the way home from work and school, I needed to pop into our local supermarket to grab some food for dinner and the kids were in their usual post-school ‘feed-me-now-or-I-will-die’ kind of moods. They were on the verge of a massive meltdown as we entered the store. They were tired and hungry (so was I).  The last thing they wanted to do was go shopping.

As we entered the fruit and vegie section, wondering why on earth I chose to put myself through this additional stress, I spotted a large box full of fruit with the sign..”Gratis fruit voor kinderen” (Free fruit for children).  Thank god! I thought. The kids grabbed an apple each, took a bite, smiles appeared on their faces, and what was to be a stressful and embarrassing situation became a pleasant one.

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Even though this idea is not new in the Netherlands, it has definately become more common. Since the beginning of 2016, I have noticed the box of fruit for kids in most supermarkets I visit. In addition to easing the shopping process for parents, it is also increasing awareness of a healthy diet.  A win-win situation!  The idea of try before you buy is also a bonus, though far from a new concept in supermarkets. In the Netherlands, it is common to be able to taste blocks of cheese, pieces of donuts, candy, cake and coffee before you purchase. Fruit is a healthier and much welcomed alternative!

At the moment, free fruit is not consistent in supermarkets throughout the country, as is up to each local store whether or not they choose to take part. So I do hope that all supermarkets will follow suit and join in with this fun and healthy initiative to promote healthy kids and sane parents!

Does your local supermarket(s) offer free fruit for kids?