Posts Tagged ‘Holland’

Den Bosch is a secret Dutch treat

February 6, 2015

Lina and I spent last Saturday researching and photographing a story about ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Say whuh? I know, the name is so crazy that even the Dutch use the colloquial Den Bosch. Phew. Den Bosch is one of those off-the-beaten- path towns popular with Dutch day-trippers and virtually unknown by the average tourist. In short, our kind of place! An amazing bonus: it was sunny! Cold, yes, but the rare blue skies made up for it.

Eetbar Dit in Den Bosch

Eetbar Dit in Den Bosch

Den Bosch is only half an hour north of us, so will be one of our go-to spots for houseguests. I’d visited before, but it had been a decade. Its medieval town center remains a beauty, but a recent bonus is that hip and trendy food and shopping spots have opened, most notably Eetbar Dit, Mariapaviljoen (a medically themed hoot), Nom Nom wine bar, some cool vintage shops and a bunch of funky “concept stores” on Verwersstraat and Vughterstraat streets. (I hate the term “concept store,” but the Dutch use it often. Basically it’s a “lifestyle store” and usually cutting-edge contemporary.)

The Jheronimus Bosch Art Center

The Jheronimus Bosch Art Center

The other exciting Den Bosch additions are the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, in praise of Den Bosch’s famous native son, whose 500th “death-day” they’re honoring in big ways all of 2016; and the new contemporary art museum, The Stedelijk, not associated with the one of the same name in Amsterdam. It focuses on jewelry and glass and has an outstanding gift shop, down to its walls and displays of wavy wood.

That’s enough for now — the details are going in my article, for an American Auto Club travel magazine. But for you, dear blog reader, a short list of things you gotta do there:

The famous Bossche Bol

The famous Bossche Bol

Treat yourself to a famed ”Bossche Bol,” a puff pastry filled with fresh whipped cream and dipped in dark chocolate.

Take a canal tour (March to October). The canals here are special because they’re below the buildings and you’ll ride through tunnels, some with artful arches.

Visit the Stedelijk and the adjacent Noordbrabants Museum, and also the Bosch center. Make sure you’re at the latter on the hour to see the astronomical clock in action.

St. John's cathedral

St. John’s cathedral

Visit the city’s pride and joy, St. John’s Cathedral, one of the best known churches in the Netherlands. It was built between 1380 and 1530 and shows off 600 statues inside and out. Just gorgeous. If you’re up for climbing 218 steps, take a tour of the bell tower for a stellar view of the city.

Along with those helpful hints, do the usual: Shop. Bop. Eat. Drink. Eet smakelijk en proost!

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Dutch to celebrate first King’s Day in style

April 21, 2014
The Prinsengracht canal is jam-packed with boats, most blaring dance music

The Prinsengracht canal is jam-packed with boats, most blaring dance music

It’s a big week in the Netherlands, where the country celebrates its first King’s Day (Koningsdag), after a long run of Queen’s Days — since 1890. I wrote this little ditty about it for the New York Times. The change came after Queen Beatrix abdicated her post to her son Willem-Alexander, who now heads the House of Orange. He changed the holiday to his birthdate, April 27, but because that falls on a Sunday this year, the debut party was moved up to April 26. Willem-Alexander, btw, is Europe’s youngest monarch — he turns 47 on Sunday.

Friends entertain the crowd at Vondelpark

Friends entertain the crowd at Vondelpark

Not much will change for the visitor. In Amsterdam, you’ll still see hundreds of thousands of Dutchies covered in orange, sidewalk sales, open-air music and dance, and family activities (go to Vondelpark for those). The craziest site is the canals, so clogged with revelers on boats that sometimes you can’t even see the water.

The second-largest King’s Day celebration is historically in Eindhoven, to the south. So if you’re looking for a smaller sea of orange, but  still with plenty of activities, consider checking out the action there.

Diane celebrates Queen's Day in Amsterdam in 2010

Diane celebrates Queen’s Day in Amsterdam in 2010

Lina and I joined the Amsterdam fray in 2010 and it was one of the most joyous occasions I’ve witnessed. The key is to leave before the rowdies come out early evening, unless you’re of ‘em. Then have at it! If you’re coming from afar, make sure to visit a bargain store for some orange-colored clothing, like I did. Lina got the inflatable crown for me — someone was handing them out on the street.  Quite fetching, don’t you think?

Happy Sinterklaas, wherever you are

December 5, 2009

Sinterklaas visits a store during his busy three-week stay in the Netherlands

Wessel and I spent Thanksgiving week in the Netherlands, but of course there was no celebration of the Pilgrims in America (though they did depart from Leiden, in Holland). Instead, we were bombarded with images of Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten.

Many say that Sinterklaas is the inspiration for our Santa Claus. Sint looks a bit like Santa, though his belly is smaller. He comes by boat from Spain (I still don’t get that part) mid-November, and his arrival is televised throughout the country. For a few weeks, he visits towns throughout the country. Like Santa, Sint has the uncanny ability to be omnipresent.

Images of Zwarte Piet are everywhere

Instead of elves, Sint has the assistance of a bevy of black men and women. It’s true. They’re the Zwarte Pieten, or Black Petes (though many are women). These are white people with their faces painted black. Yep, it sounds scarily like our minstrel shows of yore. At one point they were said to be Sint’s slaves then a few decades ago they suddenly became “friends.” Regardless, as an American, I was pretty chagrined to see Piet images everywhere, including toy Pieten, banners, and window decorations. I tried to engage a few Dutch relatives in talks about Piet, but that didn’t go over well.

Zwarte Pieten in a TV show that runs daily while Sinterklaas is in the country

The best overview of the Piet issue I found is here  in the German magazine Spiegel. The funniest take on Zwarte Pieten was written by my former classmate David Sedaris in his essay “Six to Eight Black Men.” (It’s in his 2004 book “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.”)

Zwarte Pieten play music in one of the shopping streets of Alphen aan den Rijn

Finally, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten get down to business on the night of Dec. 5 (Sinterklaasavond), when they leave gifts for the children outside to be opened on Pakjesavond — the evening of the packages. The Dutch also celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, with a tree and a big meal, but no gifts.

Diane meets the real Sinterklaas!

A week ago, on the day we flew back home, we made a stop in Alphen aan den Rijn to visit a friend’s shop. In the distance, Wessel heard the sounds of a marching band and tore off, shouting for me to follow. We turned a corner and there they were! Sinterklaas with his Zwarte Pieten, playing horns and marching through town! Though I’d rather the Petes were elves, I did enjoy the spectacle. And I got a hug from Sinterklaas!

As if there aren’t enough cultural problems with Sinterklaas, now another issue is brewing. Because of the country’s growing Muslim population, some folks object to the cross on Sint’s headdress, and many Sints now wear a solid red hat. I apparently met a “real” Sinterklaas, bearing a cross and leading his six to eight black men.

Dutch dilemma? It’s all in a name

March 16, 2009
Wessel is a citizen of the Netherlands

All Dutch citizens carry passports from “the Netherlands,” not “Holland”

Don’t mention Holland to my Dutch family unless you mean it or you’ll get this smarty-pants answer:  I’m not from Holland.

Wait, how can a Dutch citizen not be from Holland?

Because the Netherlands has an identity crisis.

Yes, the country is officially, legally, and historically named the Netherlands. Or, in Dutch, Nederland, as in “low country.” Hence the NL country abbreviation you see on car stickers. The country is bordered by Belgium, Germany, and the North Sea. To the west, across the water, is England. (And, for the record, the Netherlands is not part of Scandinavia, as some people mistakenly think.)

So what’s with the name Holland?

Well, two things, one official and one not. 
The provinces of North and South Holland are in the west of the Netherlands

The provinces of North and South Holland are in the west of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has 12 provinces. Two of those are North Holland and South Holland on the west coast. Until 1840, they were one province, called Holland. Their residents were, and still are, Hollanders. The country’s largest and most well-known cities are in Holland — Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague.

So, Holland has always been the most powerful and populated part of the Netherlands. But it’s only a part of the country. (This conundrum has similarities with the whole United Kingdom / England / Great Britain thing, which we won’t even get into here, will we?)

Dutch guilder that was in use before introduction of the euro in 2002

Dutch guilder that was in use before introduction of the euro in 2002

As you can guess, my Dutch family members are not from those provinces, therefore they’re not from the official Holland. They’re from the province of Drenthe, in the northeast, which is more rural and has the country’s lowest population density. (Americans, think Nebraska with canals.)

Holland is used as the commercial name for The Netherlands

Much to the Koks’ dismay, “Holland” is used on most Dutch souvenirs

Making matters even worse for them, the name Holland has, unofficially, been used interchangeably with the Netherlands for many years now. Many Dutch people from all provinces say they’re from Holland. Even the country’s tourism website, run by The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, is called Holland.com. Personally, I’ve met several non-Hollanders who refer to their country as Holland.

So, while my famiy’s provincial sensitivity is understandable, I do think they’re fighting a losing battle, and one that does not appear to have all that many soldiers these days. But, as a family member through marriage, I feel compelled to join in and fight the good fight, too. I hereby dedicate this blog post to the Familie Kok and their fellow non-Hollanders. Lang Leve Nederland!

Tiptoe through the tulips with us

February 13, 2009
Dutch tulip fields nearby the Keukenhof in the Netherlands

Tulip fields nearby the famed Keukenhof display garden, south of Amsterdam

Why buy roses when you can have tulips? I love wild roses and garden roses, but the kind sold in stores leave me wanting … for tulips. So when you’re shopping for your sweetie for Valentine’s Day, consider the tulip, the best Dutch treat on the planet. I’ve long admired tulips, but now that I’m in a half-Dutch household, it’s our official flower.

Flowers are cut for preservation of the tulip bulbs

Most Dutch tulip farmers cut the blooms in order to later export the bulbs

Here’s a short history. The tulip was originally a wild flower, growing in Central Asia, and first cultivated by the Turks as early as 1000 AD. It was introduced in Western Europe and the Netherlands in the 17th century by Carolus Clusius, a biologist from Vienna. He became director of the Hortus Botanicusthe oldest botanical garden in Europe, one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, at the University of Leiden, where, incidentally, I studied Dutch in 2005. (Notice I didn’t say I learned it.) His plantings marked the beginning of the incredible tulip bulb fields still famous in Holland today. If you’ve never seen them, add that to your life list.

200902_21_tulips

This year's Valentine's tulips

In case you were wondering, the word tulip comes from the Turkish word for turban. The Dutch word is tulp and the plural is tulpen. (Wow, I remembered!)

Wessel and I bought our Valentine’s tulips today. Orange, the Dutch national color. What color did you get?

Gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag, Thamar!

August 15, 2008

Thamar is my schoonzuster, or sister-in-law, and she hits the big 4-0 today! (Her name is pronounced TAM-ar.)

Thamar unpacks gifts

Thamar displays her talent for gift opening

While 40 is considered a “kroonjaar” (a sig-nificant year) because a new decade starts, there’s no hoopla surrounding it the way there is when Dutchies turn 50. But, heck, they have enough hoopla just celebrating their birthdays in the Netherlands. Not only do you always go out of your way to congratulate and even visit the birthday boy or girl, but also their family. So Gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag, Thamar! Gefeliciteerd met de verjaardag van Thamar, familie Kok!

Ecuador is located on the equator

Ecuador is located on the equator

Thamar, who works for the Dutch government doing land design, has a wonderful 14-year-old son, Valentin. His Ecuadoran father, Luis, lives part time in a home nearby and part-time in Ecuador. The first time I met Thamar and the rest of the family was in Tabacundo, Ecuador, where she did a college study abroad project, working in irrigation. That was in the early 1990s. (We were all visiting there when I met her in 2003.)

Valentin and Thamar in Surinam restaurant in Wageningen (Click to ENLARGE)

Valentin and Thamar in Surinam restaurant Duniya in Wageningen (Click to ENLARGE)

Now Thamar lives in Wageningen, which is known for Wageningen University (focused on agriculture), where both Wessel and Thamar went to school. Wageningen is also known for a bit of history. It’s where the Germans surrendered to the Allied Forces ending World War II in the Netherlands. The lesser thing Wageningen is known for is that it’s one of the Dutch words I can never pronounce correctly. You try.

Thamar recently became a first-time homeowner (Click to ENLARGE)

Thamar left the world of renters to move into her first house this past October. Home ownership isn’t as common in the Netherlands as it is in the US. So that was a huge achievement and the best birthday gift she could have given herself. We’re very proud of her! I’m sure she’ll get many visitors there this weekend, when everyone stops by to wish her gefeliciteerd. (I can’t pronounce that word either.)