Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

The Dutchness of New York

September 15, 2009

I’m turning over this installment of the blog to my favorite Dutch expert, Wessel. Take it away, hon…

Wessel and Diane are part of a US-Netherlands collaboration that has lasted for 400 years

Wessel and Diane are part of a 400-year US-Netherlands relationship

It’s great to be Dutch in the USA this year. I’m basking in the light of national pride. In 1609 — 400 years ago — a Dutch ship,  the “Halve Maen” (Half Moon), led by Englishman Henry Hudson, sailed into the waters around Manhattan. Hudson was actually looking for a shortcut to Asia for the Dutch East India Company.

The New Netherland colony and the trading post New Amsterdam, now New York City, would later be founded along its shores. NY400 — an all-year initiative in 2009 — celebrates 400 years of history between the Netherlands and the US.

Many newspapers have carried stories about the anniversary. But do Americans know about this historic event? I wouldn’t be surprised if only 1 percent know anything about what happened. So let me, a Dutch citizen, fill you in a bit.

Memorial for Dutch buying Manhattan from Native Americans in Battery Park, New York City

Monument portrays the Dutch buying Manhattan from Native Americans

More than a decade ago when visiting New York City, I went on an expedition to find traces from the Dutch past. I walked for two days through the city and found different tidbits. Topographical names: Wall Street (Walstraat), Harlem (Haarlem), Brooklyn (Breukelen; Brooklyn Borough Hall has a beautiful mural referring to its Dutch past), Coney Island (Konijneneiland, i.e. Rabbit’s Island). There were statues and plaques: The Dutch buying Manhattan from Native Americans (Battery Park), a plaque commemorating Peter Stuyvesant (last Director-General of the colony of New Netherland 1647-1664). Even the seal of the City of New York mentions 1625, the year that Fort Amsterdam was built on the southern tip of Manhattan.

Santa Claus is really a copy cat Sinterklaas

Santa Claus is really a copycat Sinterklaas

Another legacy is the Dutch linguistic influence. A few hundred words with Dutch roots are sprinkled throughout the English language. Who ever thought of Santa Claus having Dutch roots? The Dutch ancestor is Sinterklaas. Here’s a selection of loanwords: boulevard (via French from: bolwerk), brandy wine (brandewijn), caboose (kombuis), cookie (koekje), coleslaw (koolsla), dike (dijk), frolic (vrolijk), golf (kolf), iceberg (ijsberg), luck (geluk), mannequin (via French from: manneken), stockfish (stokvis), tulip (tulp), wagon (wagen), yacht (jacht). The latest addition is clap skate (klapschaats), a type of ice skate with the blade attached to the boot by a hinge at the front.

Coleslaw was invented by the Dutch who probably didn't want to waste leftover cabbage and carrots

Coleslaw was invented by the Dutch, who probably didn't want to waste their leftover cabbage and carrots

While you might not be aware of these Dutch-American stories, some you’re probably familiar with really aren’t Dutch at all. The famous Dutch boy Hans Brinker who saved the nation from disaster by sticking his finger in the dike is a work of fiction story by American writer Mary Mapes Dodge. The famous Dutch tulips were actually imported from Turkey in the mid 16th century. I’m not quite sure what the origins are of the Dutch kissing couple, found in souvenir stores everywhere. My suspicion is that sneaky Dutch merchants made the whole thing up. Even I took the bait, and have a photo of a kissing-couple statue as my desktop wallpaper at work.

Wessel relishes a stroopwafel

Stroopwafel connoisseur Wessel relishes one of these classic Dutch cookies

Another Dutch story is found in the expressions “going Dutch” and “Dutch treat,” meaning everyone pays for themselves. I guess for English-speaking people it’s hard to admit that there are frugal sides to their personalities, so they blame the Dutch. Unfortunately, I am not the best example to derail this stereotype, but I do my part by trying to redefine the expression Dutch treat. On every return trip from the Netherlands, I will fill the empty luggage space with packs of “stroopwafels.” Friends and colleagues can confirm that the stroopwafels are highly addictive and are a real Dutch treat.

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Untours is unparalleled in the travel industry

February 24, 2009
Sampling Dutch street food is among the Untours travel experiences

You, too, can sample street food in Leiden (in this case, herring) on an Untours trip

Even before I knew much about Untours, the Pennsylvania-based (un)tour company, I loved their travel offerings and attitude. Untours supports longer-term travel with a home base, so visitors have a chance to dig deeper than the usual surface tourist activities.

They provide accommodations for one or two weeks, mostly in Europe (they just added a couple North American locations). For a reasonable fee, you get lodging (with a kitchen), air travel (rare) and an English-speaking local host (unheard of). It’s similar to independent travel, but with someone to hold your hand if needed.

Rome is among the travel destions in Italy

Rome is among the destinations in Italy

Also terrific are Untours’ off-the-beaten path destinations. In Holland, untourists stay in the charming university town of Leiden instead of the big city of Amsterdam, in Greece it’s Nafplio instead of Athens, and in Switzerland Untours offers up Ticino, Oberland and villages between Interlaken and Lucerne. It doesn’t ignore big cities completely, especially in Italy and France, the top destinations. Italy choices include Rome, Florence, and Venice, but also Sicily and Amalfi. It’s similar for France. You can choose among Paris, Normandy, Alsace, and more.

I was surprised when Untours, now in its 34th year, recently added New York City and Quebec City to its offerings. Makes me wonder what’s next. Exciting!

Paris at night with its monuments bathed in illumination

"The Eiffel Tower at night is magical," reported one Untours traveler

While I haven’t traveled with Untours, I’ve interviewed several people who have, and they’ve all loved the experience of feeling like they were living in a community instead of merely passing through. For those of you who just have to be on the move, there are ways to combine destinations with Untours “Samplers.” Untours aren’t cheap, but from what travelers tell me, they’re a bargain when you factor in meals, airfare, etc. Check out the prices for yourself and let me know what you think.

Hal Taussig on his daily ride to work

Hal Taussig on his regular ride to work

Like I said, I’ve already loved Untours for years because I had a great feeling about them and their business practices. So I wasn’t surprised but I sure was impressed when last year I learned about Untours founder and president Hal Taussig, 84. Despite his very successful business, he and his wife live in a modest home. Since 1992 they’ve given $5 million in profits from the business to the Untours Foundation, which they founded to help enterprises around the world that create jobs that improve the lives of the poor. Untours has been engaging in “travel philanthropy” way before it became de rigueur. Hal has gotten some great press lately, but you can tell that he’s not in it for the publicity. Thank you, Hal, for inspiring us as travelers and as human beings!