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.

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‘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.

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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

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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.

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Flooding

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Kristen

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.

Kristen

Ik Hou Van Holland

‘Ik Hou Van Holland’ is a Dutch game show (which translates to ‘I love Holland’) broadcasted on RTL4 during prime time on Saturday nights. Let me tell you why watching Ik Hou Van Holland is particularly great for anyone learning the Dutch language. Not only will your language skills grow, but you will be laughing your head off along the way. The show celebrates all things typically Dutch. Granted the games are a little corny at times, but I love it, and so do millions of other viewers each week.

The show tests Dutch celebrities on their knowledge of the Netherlands in a fun and entertaining way. There are two teams on the show (the orange team and the red, white and blue team), captained by the same two people every week (Jeroen van Koningsbrugge and Guus Meeuwis).

Each episode, new well-known celebrities join each team. The goal is to win as many points as possible by answering questions about Dutch culture, Dutch artists, tv shows, the Dutch language of course (spelling difficult words etc.) and much more. If you are preparing to take the inburgering examen (civil integration exams), this program would be particularly helpful. You will learn so much more about this country than you thought possible, and in a fun way!

But it is not just your typical quiz show. The questions and games are asked and played in such a hilarious way, which is why this program is so successful and has been aired on Dutch tv since 2008, with 12 seasons so far. Most episodes have more than 2 million viewers, and it is therefore, the most watched show on Saturday nights. The lovely Linda de Mol presents the show and her laughter is contagious.

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You can watch some of the highlights or full episodes here. Ik Hou Van Holland also has an official Facebook page, so you could also head over there and like their page for more fun and interesting facts about the Netherlands. The show has their summer break at the moment, but they will be back with more episodes soon. So the next time you are home on a Saturday night, switch the tv over to RTL4 and check it out. You will laugh and you will learn.

Kristen.

5 Years in Clogland!

It was July 6, 2011 when my family of four arrived in the Netherlands on our one way flights from Sydney, Australia. Five years ago!

To commemorate this milestone, I wanted to write a post where I could reflect on both the challenges I have faced during that time and the positive aspects I have come to appreciate about living here in ‘Clogland’.

The first 18 months after our arrival, I was fortunate to be able to be a stay at home mum with our two young children.  I really enjoyed this time and will be forever thankful for it. Not having to race off to work every day really allowed me to settle in at my own pace, adjust, explore the country a little, attend some language classes, and focus on the kids, ensuring that they too were adjusting well to their new environment and language.

Of course, there was some culture shock, but I took it in my stride and got through it, whilst enjoying the adventure of our new lives. Culture shock is different for everyone but it usually consists of four distinct phases: Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment, and Mastery. Some may only experience one or two of these phases, but I have experienced all four within the last five years since arriving in the Netherlands.

When we first arrived here, everything was new and exciting! This is known as the honeymoon period. The differences between my home country and my new country were all seen in a romantic light so to say. I was fascinated by the new food, new culture, the history and age of everything and even the new language seemed cool!

However, this temporary stage eventually ends, the excitement wares off a little and frustration can set in. I’m pretty sure this happened for me during my first Dutch Winter. The days were dark and cold, and I began to miss the things I loved and took for granted back home (..the sun for instance). In addition, the language barrier was indeed a barrier much larger than I had imagined; I felt frustrated, withdrawn and dependent on others. At times I also felt a little lonely as all of my family and friends were far, far away. It was time to make new ones, but the language barrier again was an obstacle. I was missing home constantly and wondering if I had made the right choice by moving in the first place. This is a tough stage to get through, but you do get through it.

I then felt myself adjusting to my new environment and the new cultures. I developed new routines and made new friends. My new country no longer felt all that ‘new’. I began to adapt to and actually enjoy my new home, accepted the changes in my life, and participated more comfortably in my new culture; three kisses and speaking some Dutch become the norm.

This brings us to the forth and final stage, mastery. This term sounds a little exaggerated to me. However, I am now able to participate fully and comfortably in my host culture. Let me be clear, ‘mastery’ does not mean total conversion; I have kept many of my Aussie traits, and my Aussie accent has softened but it’s still there. This stage can also be referred to as the bicultural stage.

I began working full time, our children started school and life became hectic. It’s a daily juggle, but I enjoy it very much. So after five years of living here, I’d now like to share with you a few of the things I have come to appreciate about living in the Netherlands.

I love that there is always something to do and you never have to travel far to get there. Particularly in Spring and Summer, you will find multiple events scheduled for every weekend. It is refreshing not having to drive for hours to get somewhere, and since living here, I now perceive an hour’s drive as quite a distance ..ha!. It’s a small country, so to drive across the entire country from North to South takes about three hours. It will take you two hours to get from the beaches on the West coast to the Eastern border shared with Germany. So, coming from Australia, in my mind everything within this country is close and accessible.

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As everything is so close by, everyone gets from A to B by bike. I love it that the bikers have their own bike paths, their own bike traffic lights and their own bike bridges over the highways and canals. It makes biking around a whole lot safer. I’m not much of a biker myself, but even as a daily commuter by car, I too can appreciate the fact that the cyclists have their own roads…even glow in the dark ones!

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Everything is so green and lush! There is definately no lack of water here in the lowlands, the soil is rich and the greenery thrives. Coming from a drought stricken area of Australia, where farmers must pay a fortune for irrigation water just to keep the grass green, this is a pleasant change. I havn’t seen a water sprinkler since I left Australia five years ago.

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Gezelligheid. The closest English word that this translates to is ‘coziness’. The Dutch love lamps and candles; all houses, bars and cafes are super cozy and inviting. No fluorescent lights to be seen. Period.

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The cheese!!! The Gouda and Edam cheeses are well known all over the world, and for good reason. I particularly love the tasty matured cheeses with salt crystals. Nearly every bar and restaurant in the country will have at least one cheesy snack on their menu. Whether it be kaasblokjes (bite-sized cubes of cheese served with mustard for dipping), kaassoufflés or kaasstengels (two types of deep fried snacks which feature melted cheese on the inside) or geitenkaaskroketten (a croquette filled with goat cheese). Even after a meal, you can order a kaasplank (cheese board) as a dessert. I love it that you can visit a cute little cheese shop or the local markets, try before you buy, then buy a section of cheese from one of the large cheese wheels on display.

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Another huge bonus to living here in the Netherlands, is it’s proximity to other countries. Actually, it is one of the main attractions to living here. In the past five years, I have visited Belgium a half a dozen times, the UK four times, Germany three times, Greece twice, Paris, and even Rome. I mean, when London is just a forty minute flight away and flights are under 50 euros, why wouldn’t you? Most of the time, you don’t even need to fly to get to another country (a completely new concept for me!). From where we live, driving for just one hour can take you into Belgium, two hours and you can be in Germany, or three and you are in France! This month, my family and I are off to Spain for two weeks! It’s a luxury that I am certainly not taking for granted.

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Everything is neat and tidy. Alles is netjes mooi. The Dutch have great pride in their houses and their country. Everything is kept clean and organised. In front of their houses and in public areas, flowers are planted everywhere (even alongside roads for example) and lawns are always neatly cut. The whole country is neat, tidy and well maintained. After traveling to other European countries, I am relieved to come back home to the Netherlands for this very reason.

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The church bells. I just love them. It is still a novelty for me, as the churches back home didn’t have bells, or bells that worked. The old church in our home town here in Holland is from the 17th century and has lovely bells that ring regularly and can even play about fifty different songs! On Sundays in particular, I love to open all the doors and windows, and just enjoy listening to the sound of the church bells ringing across the town. It’s like a reality check each time I hear them – I am in Europe and this is amazing.

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I love the exposure that my children are getting to both languages and cultures. They are exposed to both Dutch and English on a daily basis, but also encounter languages such as French, German, Spanish or Greek when we are on holidays, in addition to the several languages they hear at school. They are aware and familiar with cultures other than their own and they respect them.

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I also appreciate the fact that buying a house in the Netherlands is affordable due to the fact that mortgages are much more manageable. In addition to the fact that interest rates are low (always around 2%), we are also given a tax rebate on the interest we pay. So it’s nice to be able to own our own home, yet still be able to live comfortably each month and take an annual family holiday.

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Last but not least, there are no poisonous animals here in the Netherlands!  It’s nice not to have to be constantly on guard for deadly animals when your kids are outside playing. Actually, the only things that could pose a threat here in this country are the ticks and some of the flowers.

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So, after five years, here I am; Not just living in the Netherlands, but living happily in the Netherlands. I have accepted the Dutch, their funny little habits and even their language. I feel content and that is so important. You only live once after all! Here is to the next five years being just as great!

Kristen in Clogland

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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

Does your local chemist still have a gaper out front?

Kristen

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Kristen

The Dutch Oven

My son (5) just experienced his first ever ‘Dutch Oven’. He farted in bed so I threw the covers over his head and held them down. He laughed so hard that he began to hiccup. I then explained to him that this was called a Dutch oven. I smiled to myself as I thought about how ironic it was that I was explaining the concept of the Dutch oven to my child for the first time here in the Netherlands, surrounded by the Dutch. When he finally composed himself, he then asked me why it was called that. I had no idea, so I decided to do a little research. This got the ball rolling and I decided to find out how other sayings involving the Dutch came about..

The Dutch Oven

The “Dutch oven” is a fart chamber created by pulling a blanket over someone’s head and farting. It was given this name based on the cooking action of a traditional Dutch oven (cast iron cooking pot), where food is cooked and steamed inside a closed chamber. Makes sense haha!

Going Dutch

“Going Dutch” is a term that indicates that each person participating in a group activity pays for themselves. The action probably got its name as the Dutch were internationally known for being tight with their money. However, I find that the Dutch are extremely generous and will foot the entire bill if they initiated the dinner. It is becoming more the norm nowadays to split the bill between friends and family. Maybe this was always the case?

Dutch Auction

A Dutch auction is an auction in which the auctioneer starts the auction at a high price, then begins to offer the goods at gradually decreasing prices. The first bidder to accept becomes the purchaser; the reversed process of a normal auction. A much quicker auction than normal. It began when traders from the Ottoman Empire brought tulip bulbs to Holland. Their novelty made them an instant favorite, and the demand for the bulbs grew quickly. This drove the prices high, so the Dutch auction was invented to get traders in and out with what they wanted as quickly as possible and at a high price.

Double Dutch

“Double Dutch” actually has two meanings. It can be used when describing a hard to understand language or babbling – no further explanation needed here!!  It also means the jumping of two jump ropes rotating in opposite directions simultaneously. This game is very popular world wide, particularly in America where it may have originally been introduced by the first Dutch settlers.

Dutch Courage

“Dutch courage” is basically alcohol induced self-confidence. To have an alcoholic drink right before a task you are dreading. This term originates from a time when England was fighting a war alongside the Dutch. The English soldiers noticed that Dutch sailors took their alcohol allowance just before battle, whereas the English Royal Navy men drunk throughout the whole day.

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So there you go. Interesting hey! The Dutch have been well known all around the world since the Dutch Golden Age (17th Century). They were seafarers and explorers, travelling the world and inspiring phrases such as these along the way.

There are many more sayings involving the Dutch. For instance, the “Dutch Rudder”…but umm..I will let you do your own research on that one 🙂

Kristen.

 

Cultural Differences in the Way People Drink

It wasn’t until I left my own home country, that I realised that peoples’ attitudes towards drinking alcohol differs drastically all over the world. Just between the two countries of Australia and the Netherlands, there are several major differences in the way that people drink and how culture has influenced them.

To binge or not to binge?  That is the question

In Australia, one drinks quite a lot of alcohol. It is the norm and seen everywhere all over the country. We are extremely social, love parties and are literally experts on binge drinking. Simply put, in any sort of social environment, we drink alcohol – and lots of it. If you go to visit a friend, the first thing they’ll do is offer you a drink. An alcoholic beverage of some sort. Then you usually just keep going from there. On average though, I would say Australians are happy drunks. So it is enjoyable, social, and in general, Australians sure do know how to have a good time. I mean, what is better than a nice cold beer on a hot day?

Now I’m not saying binge drinking is a good thing, but it is enjoyable. However, it is also extremely dangerous. Learning how to become the expert binge drinker does take much practise and training; and in the beginning, it is not pretty. Most teenagers will binge drink at parties until they throw up. It is all part of the learning process. You learn — how and where to draw the line — the hard way.

When I moved to the Netherlands, I immediately noticed that the Dutch have quite a different attitude towards drinking. Europeans have a rich wine culture and will mostly drink a glass or two of wine (or beer) simply to enjoy the beverage, rather than drink to ‘get drunk’. Alcohol is also not seen as often at parties etc. Actually, if you are invited to an afternoon birthday party, most of the time they are alcohol free! You will be offered tea or coffee. During a Dutch circle party, an alcoholic bevy is EXACTLY what I want and need. On the rare occasion, if the party runs until later, you may be offered a glass of wine or a beer, together with cheese and/or bitterballen.

Of course binge drinking does occur in the Netherlands, particularly on days such as Kings Day and regularly with high school/college/uni students. Previously young people over the age of 16 could legally purchase and consume beer and wine (alcohol <15% ABV). As of 1 January 2014, the minimum legal purchase and consumption age in the Netherlands was raised from 16 to 18 in the Netherlands. This may have helped. Probably not. But still, in general, the Dutch do seem to be much more controlled as far as alcohol intake in concerned.

To BYO or not?

When attending a party in Australia, you usually bring your own (BYO). You rock up with your esky packed full of it; on ice of course, as that Aussie sun is hot! After all, why should the birthday boy/girl have to fork out for everyone else’s drinks. It’s their special day, so I think we should actually be buying them a drink. In Australia we even have BYO restaurants (which I have never seen in Europe). The only exceptions where Australians will purchase the alcohol for all their guests would be on special occasions such as your wedding day or 21st birthday etc. This is most likely due to the price of alcohol, or should I say the alcohol tax. Otherwise, we would never want to host a party as it would simply be unaffordable!

Here in the Netherlands, the person hosting the party will always supply the drinks for all guests. As most people do not drink all that much and the price of alcohol is low, this is doable.  So the only thing you should take along with you to a party is a bunch of flowers for the host/hostess (which will also only set you back about 5 euros).

Breaking the Bank?

The cost of alcohol in the Netherlands is very low. You can get a crate of beer for ten euros, a bottle of wine for five euros or a one litre bottle of whiskey for twenty euros!! It is very affordable. Still, they do not overuse and abuse it.

Aussies love to drink, but they pay through the nose for it. Aussies are actually paying among the highest prices on the planet. This is due to the alcohol tax. There are 16 different categories and two different taxation systems, depending on alcohol type, concentration, commercial use, and container size, raising around $6 billion for the government. You can pay around $1 of tax per standard drink!  Meaning that a crate of beer will set you back about AUS$50! This does not, however, deter Australians from buying it.

Which drinking habits are best?

I have experienced both attitudes towards alcohol. I am still not sure which I prefer personally, and probably somewhere in the middle would be good. Moderation is the key.

But one thing I do know for sure is that I am relieved that my children are growing up observing the European attitude towards drinking alcohol. Children pick up on so much. They also witness how people drink alcohol. They observe and learn whether alcohol is drunk with food or not, whether it is drunk in groups or alone, how much of it is consumed and how quickly, and both the positive and negative affects it has on those who drink it. I feel like it is easier to show and teach our children a better attitude towards drinking here than it would be in Australia. If children see adults appreciating wine, for example, – smelling, tasting, discussing and consuming it with meals and in moderation – it may positively impact their drinking habits as young adults. We need to teach our children to respect alcohol and not abuse it. To drink sensibly. That it is ok to stop after one or two glasses. To not feel like they need to drink until they are intoxicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good party – and I love alcohol. On the weekends, I may drink 2-5 glasses of wine in the evening, and when we host a party here in Holland, we do it in our own special combined ‘Dutch-Aussie’ style (our guests can drink as much as they’d like – we wont judge you – and we will provide all of it); but.. only once our kids are fast asleep will we drink more than one.

What is the biggest difference you have noticed in regards to the drinking habits here in the Netherlands compared to other countries?

Kristen

Best Castles in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is not as famous for it’s castles as other European countries. Many of the medieval castles here were destroyed, either under siege in the 12th and 13th centuries or during WWII. However, there are some pretty impressive castles that can still be found right here in this country we now call home. Castles are expensive to upkeep, so in order to be able to do this, most of the remaining castles now serve as museums, hotels or function centres for events such as weddings and fairs.

Here are the top five rated castles in the Netherlands:

1. Muiderslot Castle (rated #2o worldwide): This restored and striking 13th century moated castle is rated as the best castle in the Netherlands. Located at the mouth of the Vecht river, 15 kilometers South-East of Amsterdam, it is now a national museum with rooms that have been restored to look as they did in the 17th century.

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2. De Haar Castle (rated #81 worldwide): Located near Utrecht, this impressive castle was originally founded in the late 1300’s by the Van de Haar family and is now fully renovated and surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens.

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3. Doornenburg Castle (rated #107 worldwide): A 13th century castle (originally a manor built in the 9th century!) located just East of Nijmegen. It contains a front-castle and a main castle, which are connected through a small wooden bridge. It is one of the biggest and best preserved castles in the Netherlands.

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4. Doorwerth Castle (rated #133 worldwide): This castle is located 8 km West of Arnhem. The original castle, probably wooden, is first mentioned in 1260 when it was besieged and burned to the ground, after which it was rebuilt in stone. In 1280, this second castle was again attacked and the outer wall was burned down. During the 14th century the castle was continually enlarged and reached it’s largest form just after the middle of the 16th century.

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5. Radboud Castle (rated #154 worldwide): This 13th century castle is located in Medamblik, in the province of North Holland, North-East of Alkmaar. The building was commissioned by Floris V. The exact date of building is not known but the castle was completed before the St. Lucia’s Flood of 13 December 1287. Restorations were then done in the late 1800s.

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These are just five of many castles located throughout the Netherlands. So as you can see, there are some pretty impressive castles here available for you to visit!

For now, I would like to talk further about the two castles that I have personally visited, which just so happen to be number one and two from the list above.

Muiderslot Castle

The Muiderslot Castle is possibly the most famous and visited castle in the Netherlands. Located at the mouth of the Vecht river, just 15 kilometers South-East of Amsterdam in Muiden (which actually means ‘rivermouth’), where the river flows into what used to be the Zuiderzee, it has been featured in many television shows set in the Middle Ages.

Count Floris V built the original stone castle back in 1280. The Vecht river was the trade route to Utrecht, one of the most important trade towns of that age. The castle was used to enforce a toll on the traders. In 1296 Gerard van Velsen conspired together with Herman van Woerden, Gijsbrecht IV of Amstel, and several others to kidnap Floris V. The count was eventually imprisoned and after he attempted to escape, Gerard personally killed the count on the 27th of June 1296.

In 1297 the castle was conquered by Willem van Mechelen, the Archbishop of Utrecht, and by the year 1300 the castle had been distroyed. A hundred years later (ca. 1370-1386) the castle was rebuilt on the same spot based on the same plan, by Albert I, Duke of Bavaria, who at that time was also the Count of Holland and Zeeland.

The next famous owner of the castle shows up in the 16th century, when P.C. Hooft (1581-1647), a famous author, poet and historian took over sheriff and bailiff duties for the area (Het Gooiland).

At the end of the 18th century, the castle was first used as a prison, then abandoned and became derelict. Further neglect caused it to be offered for sale in 1825, with the purpose of it being demolished. Only intervention by King William I prevented this. Another 70 years went by until enough money was gathered to restore the castle to its former glory.

There is plenty of activities and special tours at the Muiderslot castle which are catered specifically towards children and families. For example, every Wednesday afternoon there are special tours for families from 13.00 (from April to October) where you can take walking tour through the magnificent rooms and learn all about what it was like to be a child living in the castle during the Golden Age. You can also go on a treasure hunt where you can follow the exciting Tower route and ‘defend the castle against the enemy’. On the Knight’s route, you can dress up as a knight or a noble lady. If the children complete all the assignments, they will be knighted and receive an authentic Muiderslot knight’s medal. During the school holidays there is also special entertainment for children.

Outside on the castle grounds, you can visit the falconer in his tent and watch the magnificent birds of prey from up close (from 1 April to 31 October). You can even book a children’s birthday party here at the castle!

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Overall, a visit to the Muiderslot Castle is very enjoyable and educational for the whole family. More information on opening times and ticket prices can be found here.

De Haar Castle

Castle De Haar is the largest and most luxurious castle in the Netherlands and my personal favourite. The oldest historical record of a building at the location of the current castle dates to 1391. In that year, the family De Haar received the castle and the surrounding lands. The castle remained in the ownership of the De Haar family until 1440, when the last male heir died childless. The castle then passed to the Van Zuylen family. In 1482, the castle and walls were torn down, except for the parts that did not have a military function. These parts probably were incorporated into the castle when it was rebuilt during the early 16th century.

In 1801, Castle De Haar was passed to JJ.van Zuylen van Nijevelt, a distant cousin of the Zuylen family. He had inherited a castle that was in a poor state of repair due to 200 years of neglect. Upon his death, these magnificent ruins passed to his son Baron Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt in 1890.

The rebuilding of the castle began in 1892 under the guidance of a famous Dutch architect, Dr PHJ Cuypers. It is his influence on Castle De Haar that we see today. PHJ Cuypers rebuilt the castle as close as possible to the original outlines. The interior was rebuilt to a luxurious standard with the inclusion of electricity. A new bailey with an entrance gate was built on its original foundations.

Today the castle is surrounded by a vast parkland and manicured gardens, but this was not always the case. From the medieval period to the end of the 19th century, the village of Haarzuilens had been surrounded the castle. Haarzuilens was completely demolished and relocated some one and a half kilometres away to the west. The village chapel however was saved from this destruction and incorporated into the new park.

Castle De Haar is now a museum and open to the public. You can choose to purchase either a ticket onto the grounds only, or a ticket which includes both access to the grounds and a tour of the castle. There are also several different treasure hunts for children available both inside the castle and through the castle park grounds, which cost one euro per child and can be purchased in the museum shop. In the school holidays, extra activities are organised for children. You can buy an ice cream and/or pancakes at one of the two cafe’s located on the grounds, or simply take a rug and your own picnic lunch to eat while you enjoy the view. You can spend hours here wandering through the beautiful surrounding parkland. Stunning.

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More information on opening times and ticket prices to De Haar Castle can be found here. It is well worth a visit and one of my favourite places to take any visiting friends or family members.

Have you visited any of the above castles? Which one was your favourite?

Kristen

 

Kinderdijk

Today we did as the tourists do here in Holland…we visited Kinderdijk! This UNESCO World Heritage site is a unique collection of nineteen authentic windmills, which are considered a Dutch icon throughout the entire world.

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I had visited Kinderdijk before, but it wasn’t until today that I learned the history behind it’s name. In 1421, a baby girl was born on a farm and one night, a great surge of water from the North Sea flooded the rivers causing the dikes to overflow and break. Thousands of people drowned in these floods, but the baby floated away in it’s bassinet, with a cat perched up on the hood. The cat kept the crib balanced, protecting the baby. The place where she was eventually found the following day is now known as ‘Kinderdijk’ (Children’s Dike). No one knew the baby’s name, so she was called Beatrix de Rijke (Beatrix meaning “blessed” and de Rijke meaning “the Rich”).  There is still a crib on display at Kinderdijk, floating in the water to remind us of how Kinderdijk got it’s name all those hundreds of years ago….

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As Beatrix grew up at Kinderdijk, she observed the area transforming into a safer environment with more windmills and higher dikes. As the majority of the Netherlands is actually below sea level, over the centuries the Dutch became more aware of the importance of protecting themselves from the water. They dramatically improved their dikes, windmills and pumping stations. The Dutch are now world famous for their water management skills and specialist dutch companies are now in high demand all over the world for their expertise in this area.

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