Leiden-The City of Keys

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending three days in beautiful Leiden. Cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam are known world-wide but it is the smaller cities such as Delft, Gouda and Leiden that have really captured my heart.


What a gorgeous city full of so much history! Due to it’s location on the Old Rhine river, by the end of the 15th century, Leiden was the largest city in the county of the Netherlands. The city then made the decision to side with the Dutch revolt against the Spanish and played a very important role in the 80 Years’ War. The Spanish invaded the city and the people of Leiden succumbed to disease and starvation. However, they were able to successfully drive the Spanish troops out on 3 October 1574 by cutting the dikes, enabling more Dutch ships to come in, carrying extra provisions. The great liberation, known as Leiden’s Ontzet or the Relief of Leiden is still celebrated today. Every year on 3 October, Leiden becomes one big city-wide party.


This huge annual party since 1574 is not the only result of their win over the Spanish; legend has it, the city was also given the university as a reward for it’s heroic resistance. The university of Leiden, founded by Willem van Oranje, is the oldest university in the Netherlands (Einstein was a regular professor!). This university remains to be one of the top leading universities in Europe. The Hortus Botanicus, the oldest botanical gardens in the Netherlands, is situated next to the University of Leiden. This is where the first tulip bulbs in the Netherlands bloomed (in 1593)!


The Burcht van Leiden is an old fort in Leiden constructed on top of a hill in the 11th century, used to protect the city. It is located at the spot where two parts of the Rhine come together, the Oude Rijn and the Nieuwe Rijn. The structure is now open to the public and offers an amazing view over the city.




Leiden is also the birthplace of Rembrandt, and the city is very proud of this fact.


When you visit Leiden, you will also notice the motif of two red keys all over the city on many buildings and walls etc. Leiden is therefore fondly known as the City of Keys. This dates back to 1293 when official city documents had a wax city seal on them, depicting Saint Peter carrying a key. A well-known church in Leiden today carries his name, the Pieterskerk. It is a magnificent church to visit and the University of Leiden graduation ceremonies are also held here each year.



Right near the entrance to this church (also known as the church of the Pilgrim Fathers), a sweet little hofje (almshouse) is located which was founded in 1655 for widows or the poor to live in. It is still used for this purpose today. Up until 1625, John Robinson lived here (the pastor of the “Pilgrim Fathers” who became one of the early leaders of the English Separatists is regarded (along with Robert Browne) as one of the founders of the Congregational Church).


Strangely enough, Leiden is one of the very few cities in the Netherlands that doesn’t actually have a town square. But this doesn’t affect it’s charm at all. Every cobble stoned street, every church and picturesque canal is enchanting (the fact that the sun was shining for my entire visit may have helped a little).  This coupled with the fact that the nightlife is fueled by a 23,000-strong student population, makes Leiden a city to add to your bucket list.





What I Learned from 50 Posts

So this post marks, believe it or not, my 50th blog post on Kristen in Clogland! Considering the fact that a year ago I had not even considered the idea of blogging, I have thoroughly surprised myself with the fact that I have written so many posts in less than nine months. There was obviously a lot of information in there just bursting to come out!

Writing for my blog has been simultaneously enjoyable, therapeutic and rewarding. Helping others is important to me and always has been; so just the possibility that I may have written something that has helped make someone else’s life easier, makes me smile. During my career, I have always worked in roles where I can help people, whether it be in as a massage therapist, in tourism/customer service, or as a personal assistant; I am happiest when helping others. My daughter is the same and I can see that in her already even at the young age of seven. I have discovered that blogging is just another way that I can help others, by sharing, reassuring or advising the reader.

My blogs have varied this year from travel, to life with kids, to missing my family in Australia, to adjusting to life in another country and more. What I have learned from all of my posts, is that the heart felt posts seem to be the most read. The posts where I have poured my heart out for all to read, or the ones that perhaps caused the reader to shed happy or sad tears, they are by far the posts which were most popular. Well, I have had my fair share of trauma, drama, and challenges in my life, so I had plenty to write about. Posts such as The Day I lost my Sister and The Emotional Challenges to Living Abroad were each read over a thousand times. Furthermore, posts where I shared my personal experiences and struggles with learning the Dutch language, GP culture shock and raising bilingual children were also well embraced. All of these are in my top ten most read posts to date.

My personal favourite post from this first fifty, which also happens to be one of my most read posts, is 5 Years in Clogland. Whilst writing this post, I was able to reflect back on the positive aspects that I have come to appreciate about living here in ‘Clogland’. I really enjoyed writing this post and focusing on the small things in life that we may somtimes overlook or take for granted.

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What I have also learned from fifty posts, is that the travel posts that I had thought would be the most popular, are actually not. Ironically they are the ones that took the longest to write. I spent hours and hours writing up my travel posts about Alaska, GermanyMexico, Hawaii etc, but although they are helpful to those thinking of traveling to those particular destinations, they are not as popular. They are informative, rather than heart-felt, and I guess this is why.

Writing has been surprisingly enjoyable for me. I work full time, I am raising two children who are constantly challenging me and pushing boundaries, I have a household to run and dinners to cook. Yet, I still find myself continuously making time to write for this blog on a regular basis. I make the time, because I enjoy it. It is my time out, my ‘me time’. Sure, there are nights where I am so exhausted that all I want is to flop onto the couch and watch a bit of tele, but there are also nights where writing is exactly what I needed and I feel satisfied, excited and content once a new post completed is published.

I’ve learned that honesty and openness are always appreciated. My parents and husband have always told me that my face is like an open book. I guess my writing is the same. People love to read posts that they can relate to, posts that can help them through a hard time, posts that make them realise that they are not the only ones facing certain struggles in life. I have also learned that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and to not to get personally offended if people do not like, or agree with, something I have written.

I am always on the look out for writing inspiration. If there is somthing specific that I have not yet written about that you would personally like to know more on, I am open to suggestions. So please feel free to contact me with your requests.

If you have not yet ‘Liked’ my Facebook page, please do. I am closing in on 500 followers and I think this would be an incredible milestone to reach before the end of 2016!

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In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you who have read, liked or shared one of my Kristen in Clogland posts this year. Please keep on sharing the posts you enjoy and I look forward to writing more open and honest posts for you in the future.


Teaching Kids the Value of Money

So I have realised that kids these days take a lot for granted. We all want the best for our children. We work hard to provide them with things that we did or didn’t have when we were young. But there’s a danger in that. Because children can end up taking everything for granted. For birthdays and Christmas in particular, our children receive so many presents from family and friends that I don’t feel like they fully appreciate each and every one like I’d hoped. So maybe it’s time to change tactics. It’s time to start actively teaching them that everything costs money and that money does not grow on trees.

Our two children are currently 6 and 7 years of age, but it’s never too early to start teaching them the value of money.  When I was a kid, I worked hard to save enough money to buy what I wanted. I remember saving up for my first ever CD (Mariah Carey – Emotions). I wanted that CD soooo bad and it took me months to save up the amount I needed to buy it. Chore by chore, 50 cents at a time, I saved and saved. Keeping a tally sheet on the fridge; every time I washed out the dairy, helped dad feed hay to the cows, massaged dad’s feet, cooked dinner or cleaned the house etc., I would earn another 50 cents towards my CD.  Boy did I love that CD once I finally got it! This made me realise that you have to work hard for your money. It has to be earned.

So what better way to teach them to earn money, than by putting them to work? I have seen a fantastic list of age appropriate chores. It’s time to print this out and start delegating!



About a year ago, we already started to get the kids to complete a couple of regular chores each. My daughter sets the table each night and takes the glass bottles and jars out to the recycling bin each week. My son puts the drinks on the table each night for dinner and helps me cook dinner on the odd occasion. They also bring their dirty dishes to the sink after dinner, put their dirty laundry in the basket and keep their rooms reasonably tidy. But we have never paid them for it — I’m not fully convinced I should either. I do want to teach them to earn their money but, at the same time, I also think that there are some things around the house that they should just do – well just because they have to be done (and not for the money). Everyone in the family has a responsibility to help. However, they are now old enough to help out even more around the house and a bit of coinage might be all the motivation they need. Perhaps it’s time to make a chore chart?! Do you have a chore chart at home? Do you reward your children with pocket money?

I read that children are ready for pocket money once they understand that;

  • it’s important to save money, and not spend it all
  • you need money to get things from shops
  • spending all their money today means there’s no more until the next payment.

So I think that our kids are ready and I plan to give this a go. My idea is that if they complete all of their daily tasks, then they get their pocket money at the end of the week, which they can put into their piggy banks. They can then save for a special toy or a special outing, like the movies etc. It’s another win-win situation really. They get to save for things they want and I get some extra help around the house.

As I mentioned in my post, ‘What my parents taught me about parenting‘, some parents give their children everything they want and rarely say ‘no’. Maybe out of guilt or maybe they believe that their child will suffer trauma if his every desire is not met. Children will suffer much more throughout their lives if they develop the belief that love means others should give them everything they ask for. Teaching our children that money needs to be earned is such a vital life lesson that they will thank us for as adults.

Actually our children are already learning about money just by watching us, the parent, and how we deal with money. How we spend, earn, save, withdraw or donate money – these are all chances to teach your child more about the basics of money management.

As children get older, you can teach them about:

  • the value of money: the relative price of things
  • spending: accepting that money is gone once it’s spent
  • earning: understanding that earning money can be hard work, but usually that’s the only way to get it
  • saving: using short-term and long-term goals
  • borrowing: understanding the importance of repaying borrowed money

So hopefully I can teach them this valuable life lesson, the value of money. Wish me luck!



The Battle to Keep our Feet Dry

Most of us are aware that much of the Netherlands is below sea level, but did you know that about a sixth of the land has been reclaimed from the sea? A massive two thirds of the country is vulnerable to flooding. A little scary when you think about it isn’t it?. I’m quite thankful that our house is three stories high… just in case.


‘The Netherlands’ actually means lowlands, and that description is a very accurate one. Without the dikes and protective systems, a massive chunk the country would be submerged (and of course, the part where the majority of people live!). Therefore, flood control is an important issue for the Netherlands.  Natural sand dunes and constructed dikes, dams, and floodgates provide a defense against storm surges from the sea. River dikes prevent flooding from water flowing into the country by the major rivers, while a complicated system of drainage ditches, canals, and pumping stations (historically: windmills) keep the low-lying parts dry for habitation and agriculture.

Past flood disasters, coupled with technological developments, have led to large construction works to reduce the influence of the sea and prevent future floods in the Netherlands.


The Dutch have been known to say, “God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland”. The country has literally been shaped by their struggle against the water. The construction of dikes is one of the key factors in this heroic story. Without dikes, half of the Netherlands would be regularly flooded by the sea and the rivers.

The oldest dike in The Netherlands that we know of is about 2000 years old and is situated in Friesland. It was built by monks and made of piled turf. By 1250 most dikes had been connected into a continuous sea defense. Dikes still exist today in all Dutch towns and cities located anywhere near water.

Dutch legend has it that there was once a small boy who upon passing a dike on his way to school noticed a slight leak as the sea trickled in through a small hole. Even though the boy knew that he would be in trouble if he were to be late for school, the boy pocked his finger into the hole and so stemmed the flow of water and saved the town. There is a statue of ‘the boy with finger in hole in dike’ located in Harlingen Friesland Netherlands



Windmills – More than just Wheat Grinders

One of the biggest inventions around the 15th century was the use of windsmills for a purpose other than grinding wheat and grain. Wind mills were used to pump the water out of the sunken polders over the dikes and into the rivers that were situated higher than the land. Wind mills were then placed all over the country. It was this invention that made it possible to keep living below sea level and still have dry feet.



In 1421, a devastating flood occurred that actually ranks 10th in the list of top ten worst floods in history. During the night of November 18 to November 19, 1421 a heavy storm near the North Sea coast caused the dikes to break in a number of places and the lower lying polder land was flooded. Over seventy villages were swallowed by the flood and were lost, causing tens of thousands of casualties and widespread devastation in Holland.


Creating Polders

The reclaimed land areas are called polders. Canals and pumps keep the water out. Windmills used to provide power for the pumping, but now most pumps are electric. In 1820, King Willem I of Orange was the first to reclaim land with the use of steam power. Near Gouda the Zuidplaspolder was reclaimed. The Zuidplaspolder is a polder in the western Netherlands, located northeast of Rotterdam. It reaches a depth of 7.0 metres under sea level.

Flevoland is the twelfth province of the Netherlands. It is located in the centre of the country, where the former Zuiderzee used to be. The entire province is reclaimed land. Just north-east of Amsterdam, this is where the new cities of Almere and Lelystad are now located.


There are polders everywhere throughout the Netherlands. The Dutch are literally the masters of reclaiming land from the sea.

The Afsluitdijk

One of the most impressive dikes in the Netherlands is the Afsluitdijk. This massive 32 kilometre long dike which was built in the 30’s, protects central Netherlands from the effects of the North Sea. What used to be the Zuiderzee (sea), then became the Ijsselmeer (lake) and this dike was also the first official connection between the Province of North Holland and the Province of Friesland.

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More Flooding!

In January 1953, the North Sea flood occurred. The floods struck the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland. A combination of a high spring tide and a severe European windstorm over the North Sea caused a storm surge. The combination of wind, high tide and low pressure caused the water level to exceed 5.6 metres above sea level in some locations. The flood and waves overwhelmed sea defenses and caused extensive flooding. The Netherlands was mainly affected, recording 1,836 deaths and widespread property damage. Most of the casualties occurred in the southern province of Zeeland. As a result of the widespread damage, the Netherlands particularly, and the United Kingdom had major studies on means to strengthen coastal defences.


The Delta Works

In 1958, they began to build the Delta Works. The Delta Works is a series of construction projects in the southwest of the Netherlands to protect a large area of land from the sea. The works consisted of dams, locks, dikes, levees, and storm surge barriers. The aim was to shorten the Dutch coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised.


The Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, between the islands Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland, is the largest of the 13 ambitious Delta Works series of dams and storm surge barriers, designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea.

In the 90s, the construction of the Maeslantkering was the final stage of the Delta Works. First the dry docks were constructed on both shores and a sill was constructed at the bottom of the Nieuwe Waterweg. Then the two 22 metre high and 210 metre long steel gates were built. The gates automatically close when the water rises too high and it is one of largest automatically moving structures on Earth. This impressive storm surge barrier is close to my home; it protects my family, so it would have to be my personal favourite 🙂


Another Evacuation – A New Approach was Needed

One of the biggest recent evacuations in Dutch history is the one that occurred one the 31st of January 1995. On that day and in the coming days, 250.000 people were evacuated along the Rhine, Muse and Waal rivers. Heavy rainfall in Belgium and Northern France caused a dangerously high water level in these rivers. If a dike breached, a lot of land would have been flooded and the water level would have been 5 meters high.

The Rhine swelled but fortunately the dikes did not breach, but in the Province of Limburg a lot of cities did flood due to the extreme high water levels.


Due to increased river flow caused by large volumes of melt and rainwater from the upstream regions, a new approach was needed. Instead of continuing to increase the height and size of the dikes, the Netherlands is now making more room for water.


The Dutch are still working hard at reclaiming land. The Netherlands is gradually getting larger thanks to dredging projects such as the Maasvlakte 1 and 2 in the port of Rotterdam. The land here was artificially enlarged by reclaiming land from the North Sea. Maasvlakte 2 is one of the biggest engineering projects in the Netherlands following the success of the first Maasvlakte area. Approximately 20 square kilometers of land was reclaimed! In addition to the economic benefits for the city of Rotterdam, a 7 kilometre-long sandy beach for recreation has been created.  This beach is worth a visit, it is stunning and never overcrowded. You can read more about that here.




You’ve got to give it to the Dutch. They are masters at water management. I for one, am extremely thankful that my feet are still dry and let’s hope that they stay that way.


Kies voor Sport

I have recently become aware of a wonderful sports program for kids, organised by our local gemeente (municipality). ‘Kies Voor Sport‘ (Choose for Sport) is a program that promotes and encourages children to try out as many different sports as possible throughout the school year for a very affordable rate!

This project is open to all students from groep 3 t/m 8 (grades 1-6) within the municipality of Maassluis. At the beginning of each school year, a program is distributed to all families via the local elementary schools. Dozens of different sports are listed in the program on various days and times, and children can look through and choose what sport they would like to try. Parents may then sign up their children for a maximum of three introductory sports courses (5 lessons) each. Best of all, the program is funded by our local municipality, which means that children can join an introductory sports course for an average of just 3 euros per course!  Just 3 euros for five lessons! You can’t beat that.

The project is designed and coordinated by the sports clubs within the municipality. It promotes healthy lifestyle choices to the children, and at the same time, it offers the sports clubs an opportunity to recruit new members. Which means that all local clubs are more than willing to participate! Every year, the sports clubs and gyms in Maassluis provide a fabulous and extensive range from football to yoga, street dance to kickboxing, snorkelling to squash!

Kies voor Sport is a unique opportunity for children to experience sports which they may not have had the chance to try yet. Due to the affordability of each sport course, the program helps parents financially to enable their children to take part in various local sports clubs throughout the year. Inevitably, this program helps students to see how much fun sports and exercise can be! It also helps children to meet new sport friends, and to decide which sports and which local sports clubs they would perhaps like to continue with afterwards.

These days, our children are surrounded by technology. We need to do all we can to promote outdoor activities and exercise. Kies voor Sport is such a fabulous local initiative and I hope other municipalities follow suit to enable as many children as possible to make the most of this wonderful opportunity!

If you are aware of similar sports programs in other areas which are also funded by the local gemeente, I’d love to hear from you. I am very curious if this is unique to our area only, or if it is common throughout the Netherlands.