Sunday, 28 February 2016

Edmondo de Amici's "Holland and its People"

I have to thank Sara Veronica M. for unearthing this gem!

Edmondo De Amicis is an Italian writer from the XIX century, know and possibly loathed by generations of school children who had to study his most famous novel Cuore (heart) a collection of morality tales based on life in a classroom of the '800.

I was not aware however that after travelling to The Netherlands, he wrote a book called Holland and its People.

The whole book is available here (in English).

Here's the part where he talks about Scheveningen (Chapter V):

Scheveningen is a village about two miles from the Hague, and approached by a straight road bordered by a double row of beautiful elms that allow no ray of sun to penetrate them. This road, which is gay on either side with villas and gardens, is the favorite promenade of the people of the city, but on other days is almost solitary. You meet no one but one of the figures described above, or a carriage, or the diligence that plies between the city and the village. With its deep shade, rich vegetation, and solitude, it reminds one of the grove of the Alhambra at Grenada, and one forgets that he is in Holland, and thinks no more of Scheveningen.

But arrived at the end, an instant change of scene dissipates the image of Grenada, and nothing remains but a desert of sand; the salt breeze blows in your face with a low continuous murmur; and if you mount a little hillock, you see spread out before you the North sea.

For anyone who has never seen any sea but the Mediterranean the spectacle is a very striking one. The beach is composed of sand as fine and light as ashes, and upon it the spreading waves for ever fold and unfold themselves like a carpet. This sandy beach extends to the feet of the downs, which are composed of little hillocks of sand - steep, broken, and corroded, deformed by the eternal flagellation of the sea. Such is the entire Dutch coast, from the mouths of the Meuse to Helder. There are no mollusks, nor star-fish, nor living shells, nor crabs, nor a shrub, nor a blade of grass. Nothing but water and sand, sterility and solitude.

The sea is no less melancholy than the coast, And answers truly to the image we have formed of the North sea, in reading of the superstitious terrors of the ancients who fancied it lashed by eternal winds and peopled by gigantic monsters. Near the shore it is of a yellowish color, beyond, a pallid green, and still further off, a dull blue. The horizon is in general veiled in mists which often descend to the shores and hide the sea, like an immense curtain, leaving visible only the wave that dies upon the beach, or some specimen of a fisherman s bark not far distant. The sky is almost always grey, traversed by great clouds which cast dense and moving shadows on the water; at some points it is black with a darkness like night, raising in the mind images of tempest and horrid shipwreck; at others, illuminated by streaks of vivid light, serpentine, and like motionless lightning, or rays from some mysterious planet. The wave, always agitated, rushes to bite the shore with impetuous rage, and gives forth a prolonged cry of grief and menace, as from a crowd of lamenting creatures. The sea, the sky, and the earth turn sinister looks upon each other, like three implacable enemies, and the spectator shudders under the dread of come great convulsion of nature.

Friday, 5 February 2016

It's Carnival time!

In many European countries (and several others around the world) people are celebrating Carnival this weekend.

In the Southern Provinces of Holland, Carnaval is (and we are understating it here) quite a big deal, with people actually taking off on Carnival Monday and Tuesday to celebrate it properly.

With celebrations covering the week before Ashes Wednesday, Carnival is strictly connected to the Christian calendar, although, as with many other celebrations, it is also most likely rooted in pre-Christian festivities. Ashes Wednesday takes place 46 days before Easter: since Easter’s date is, unlike Christmas, changeable and depending on the March equinox, it means that the Carnival’s date varies from year to year too, although it normally takes place either in February or March.

Coming back to The Netherlands, here are the things you need to know if you are planning to celebrate it "Dutch" style.

First of all, you will have to go "South of the Big Rivers", because they are predominantly Catholic. Northern provinces, mostly Calvinistic and hardworking (or just boring, according to colleagues coming from the South who wish to remain anonymous ;), have not caught the Carnival bug just yet.

Be aware however, that you might have issues getting to the Carnival cities, since they change name during this season. Den Bosch turns into Oeteldonk, Nijmegen is Knotsenburg and Maastrich becomes Meestrech.

Every city elects a Parliament of the Eleven and the King is announced around or on the 11/11 of the previous year.  The King and his Eleven helpers wear elaborate and richly decorated costumes, reminiscent of medieval lords’ attire

The highlight of the celebrations is of course the Optocht or Parade, featuring floats with giant papier-mache statues, often animated, dancers and groups in costumes based on a specific theme. As is typical during Carnival the world over, local and national authorities are mocked and ridiculed.

Marching brass bands playing carnival tunes (check on the web for a selection of typical carnival songs) are joining the parades and will then roam the streets of the cities when the optoch is over.

As a Dutch colleague put it to me "I think this + a lot of booze sums it up".

Beer of course feature quite prominently among the intoxicating drink of choice during these events (according to 2012’s statistics, and average Limburger drank 36 glasses of beers in 2.6 days), and it’s not uncommon to come across "beer barrel speakers": ironic speeches given in the local dialect from the top of a beer barrel. Like speakers at the Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, just drunk(er).

All in all, Carnival in The Netherlands is an event to be experienced at least once while you are in the country, just make sure you take Monday and Tuesday off … they are not among  Europol’s holidays (yet).

Want to know more? Here are some links:

Copyrighted image from Google images

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The many marvels of the Louwman Museum

Finally, after years of living nearby and biking in front of it every single morning, I managed to visit the Louwan Automobile Museum and I must admit it's spectacular.

Even someone like me who has no driving licence and very little interest in cars (as in: "what car does she have?" "Dunno, a grey one?") spent a fantastic 4 hours (!!!) in the building.

Granted, I personally think it is quite ugly from the outside and doesn't fit at all in the surroundings, but once inside all is forgiven and forgotten.

The collection is outstanding and include a lot of unique pieces, such as a steam car powered by coal that had to be started 50 minutes before departure,  one of the few remaining first Toyotas (discovered in a Siberian barn and brought to Holland by train), one of the first Ford model T and also a Benz that was once "stolen" and driven by Mrs Benz to visit her family, a journey that made her the first person ever to drive more than 100 km ( you go Bertha!).

And the best part of it? The Louwman has now joined the Museum Card programme, so you can get in as many times a year as you wish!

If I had a driving licence, this would be my car.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Feel good cafe'

Today we discovered this very nice network of cafes and workshops run by an organisation called Ipse de Brugge providing assistance, support and job opportunities to people with disabilities.

We visited the Smulhoeve in Leidschenveen but there are many more cafes scattered around the country (Alphen aan de Rijn, Nootdorp and Brielle among others).

They also do pottery and painting workshops and they produce honey, which was voted the best in The Hague in 2014.

Next on my to do list is a visit to Choco Toko, the chocolate lab they have in Zoetermeer, which sounds very promising....

Here's today's cafe:

List of all cafes and other activities available here:,,,,,,,,/

Friday, 1 May 2015

Barefoot in the park (in Gelderland)

A.Vogel is a company that makes natural remedies from plants. Regardless of mine or anyone's stance on the topic, it's possible to visit their garden in spring and summer for free. And it does look lovely.

It offers a series of walks, bicycle routes, educational path and boards, a restaurant, and even a "barefoot path" which is said to be very good for your feet, especially after they have been sealed in shoes all winter long!

According to their website, best season to visit is June to September, but I am sure it is very nice in May too.

Copyright photo:

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Coming up this weekend, in a greenhouse near you!

Discover what's going on in those famous Dutch greenhouses this weekend during Kom in de Kas (Come to the Greenhouse).

The website usefully divide the activities by provinces, so you can check what's going on near you.

Apart from being able to visit greenhouses, fields and farms, you can take part in cooking workshops, flower arrangements classes, gardening displays and much more

In many places there's live music and tons of things for the kids to do as well. Check this link for all the locations and activities:

More tomatoes sizes and colours that you ever knew existed!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Huis Doorn: home of the last Kaiser of Germany

Huis Doorn is a manor house not far from Utrecht.

Not long ago I read the excellent Geert Mak's In Europa, which I warmly recommend, and discovered that Wilhelm II, the German emperor during WWI, used the palace as his residence-in-exile from the end of the war till the 1940s when he died.

Although it is still occasionally a destiantion for nostalgic German monarchists, it has now been converted into a national museum with running exhibitions on WWI and military history in general.

During the coming Easter weekend for instance, they are showcasing precious enamelled eggs from their collection while kids can go on a Easter Eggs hunt in the English landscape gardens.

At the end of  May they will host a big living history event on WWI with the grounds and palace filled with "soldiers", original vehicles and equipment, demonstrations and classes and there's an interesting programme on King's Day too.

Huis Doorn. Image copywright:

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Minibieb: book crossing cabinets taking over the country

I had seen some of these small, nicely decorated boxes while driving or biking around.

Lately one appeared in the neighborhood so I had the chance to examine it close by and discovered that it's a book crossing experiment!

The Minibieb is basically a small library where residents can borrow books for free and leave the ones they enjoyed for other people to read.

It could be "managed" by someone living nearby, who decides to paint an old cupboard and stock it up with old books, it can be a group of neighbours with a passion for reading or schoolchildren and their teachers from a nearby school. Anything goes really.

Each cabinet also contains a notebook where people can note down what they borrowed and when, what they liked and what they would like to read.

It's also a great way for cash strapped foreign students or recent immigrants to practice their Dutch in a social an inexpensive way.

More info and how to sign up here:

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The bombing of The Hague, March 1945

Many people are well aware that Rotterdam suffered a terrible bombing at the beginning of WWII, that left the city almost completely destroyed.

Not so many people are aware that a part of The Hague was also destroyed, this time by Allied Forces' bombs.

On the 3 March 1945, 67.000 kilos of explosive were dropped on the Bezuidenhout, killing more than 500 people and leaving 12.000 people homeless.

The English planes were aiming for German rockets, which according to their intelligence were hidden in the Haagse Bos, but due to miscalculation and possibly adverse meteorological conditions, they hit the (already then) lively neighborhood.

The residents' committee and the City of The Hague have recently inaugurated an historical path complete with explanatory boards that takes walkers through the neighborhood and the woods, with before and after pictures and extra bits of history about the area, from its first developments in the 18th century till becoming the popular area it is nowadays.

More information and a list of related events planned for the month of March, here (in Dutch):

One of the panels with before/after pictures. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

A de-wine accommodation in Friesland

There's an hotel in Stavoren, a town on the "Friesland side" of the Ijsselmeer, that offers its customers a very unusual sleeping accommodation.

Four of their rooms have been "carved" out from giant 14.500-liter capacity Swiss wine casks.

The room comes with two beds, bathroom and small lounge but sadly no wine tasting facilities.

Not recommended for those doing a Dry January... and not just because of the weather.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Molen de Valk: a day in the life of a miller

While lazily driving around on side roads one Saturday afternoon, we ended up in Moontfort, saw a working windmill and decided to give a look.

The Molen De Valk was built in 1753 but fell in disrepair after the Second World War.
It was later transformed into a house (you can see still some remaining plaster where the shower used to be, on the first floor) and was eventually converted back to a proper mill into the Noughties. It's milling flour again since 2009

Before the War there were 27.000 working windmills in the provinces of Utrecht and South-Holland alone, while now there are about just 600 in the whole country.

Once inside, we got a wonderful (plus free and unexpected) guided tour from Hein, one of the volunteer millers.

A cheerful and very knowledgeable fellow, he informed us that although he does love his wife, the true passion of his life is the Windmill.

Pun asides, he also explained all the mechanisms and intricacies of the grinding and milling processes, the different kind of flours and the meaning of the different positions of the sails. When the wind is good, the mill can produce up to 250 kilos of flour per hour!

Lovely ladies tend the quaint shop on the first floor, which sells a vast range of flours, cake and cookie mixes and jams.

All in all a great experience and throughout recommendable, especially since then on Sunday morning we got to make pannekoeken with the freshly milled flour mix.

They are open on Saturdays only and the tours are given in Dutch.

This is the link to the website, with opening times, history, overview on products and info on own to become a "Vriend van de Molen de Valk"

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A windmill to top them all!

(Ok, there's nothing more stereotypical that suggesting to visit some windmills while in Holland, but these are special, I promise!)

Although Schiedam is well known for its historical connection with the production of jenever, the most striking feature of this small town north of Rotterdam are certainly the windmills, and that's because they are the tallest in the world.

Of the town's 20 original windmills only 6 survive: they are spectacularly tall (up to 40 meters) and are kept in excellent conditions.

One of them was actually built in 2006 and it generates energy for the Nolet distillery, the makers of Ketel One vodka, very popular in the US I am told.

Another one, the Walwisch, hosts a shop selling several kind of flours and other baking products: a good excuse to give a look inside and bring home something lekker!

Blog post with detailed info on the windmills:

Windmill and flour shop De Walwisch:

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Lucifers: the new frontier of the oranje snacks.

While waiting for my patat met on Saturday during Vlaggetjesdag, I spotted these newcomers in Henk's Patat display: "New" the seller told me "with a spicy top. They are called Lucifers".

So I looked them up and, apart from finding out that they are kipcorn, meaning chicken covered in cornflakes and deep fried, with a very spicy head, I also discovered this amazing website, dealing in all things snacks.

Especially handy at 4.00 AM on Sunday, when you are biking home after a tough night out and trying to make your (fuzzy) mind up between a  ham en kaassouffle and a broodje speklap speciaal.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Jutters Mu-ZEE-um: the museum of the sea shore

In Zaandvoort ann Zee there's a man, Victor Bol, with the passion for collecting stuff that have been washed up on the beach at the popular Dutch sea resort.

Bottle caps, nets, lifelines, plastic dolls, buoys, shoes and even a piece of rocket belonging to NASA, all kind of things can be found in this fascinating collection of human debris.

Open on Wednesdays and in the weekend, they can also teach how to create and successfully launch a message in a bottle...

One man's rubbish is another man museum collection.

Not in the collection.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

King of my castles: some Dutch castles open to the public

Inspired by a feature on the NS magazine, here's a recap of the Dutch royal palaces and other castles open to the public:

Paleis Het Loo, in Apeldoorn, founded by William III and Mary Stuart, which among many other things were also keen amateur botanists and imported flowers and plants from all over the world.

Paleis Soestdijk, where Juliana and her controversial husband Bernhard used to live: it has a formal English garden, Wilhelmina's Childhood playhouse and a cafe inside the former Orangerie.

Also, from the end of April till the end of August, it displays giant painted apples with portraits of the Dutch Royal family. Bizarre surely, but certainly original...

The Koninklijk Paleis on the Dam in Amsterdam, currently being used by Willem Alexander to receive guests, offers an audio guided tour with a voice-over provided by the former mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen. Apart from that there are also interesting paintings and art pieces...

The ruin of Kasteel Valkenburg looks also pretty impressive, with some romantic spots and a XVIII century chapel. as a bonus it's on the top a hill, always cause of amazement in the flat country.

All the castles are on the Royal route.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The cult of Yakult

If, like me, you are an aficionado of the look behind the scenes, the factory tour, the "How it's made" show on Discovery Channel, then you are going to love this.

Only for the readers of the AH Magazine (AllerHande - get a copy in one of the 25 AH supermarkets in close proximity of your house), Yakult offers a guided tour of their plant in Almere.

Now, I am not that a particularly big fan of these kind of miracle drinks, however it has to be said that apart from the tour, samples tasting and a goodie bag, you also get a Japanese lunch, so it's totally worth it!

Several dates available in April and May.

With some luck, you might get a lunch like this

Friday, 14 February 2014

Have an hipster Valentine!

We are not big Valentine people Mr Thingstodoinholland and I, so I do not have any suggestion for a conventionally romantic date.

I do have some places in mind that can become ironically romantic, if you visit them with the right person (i.e. anyone with a bit of sense of humor)...anyway, here they come:

- the harbour of Rotterdam. That's where we actually went on our second date.
Blade runner-esque neon lights, fumes and fires, secluded beaches just reclaimed from the sea, wild rabbits and nobody around but eager surfers and fishermen. Bring a takeaway and share it with your beau while looking at the sunset from the car;

- the La Place on the top of the V&D in Utrecht, as mentioned here. Get the dish of the day and a strawberry smootie with 2 straws and gaze dreamingly into each other eyes and over Utrecht's Domtoren and roofs;

- the EYE in Amsterdam, for some quality cinema followed by steamy cappuccino or dinner in the cafe overlooking the hustle and bustle of the Ij. (

- in The Hague,  go to the VaVoom on the Grote Markt and toast the night away while sipping Dark&Stormies and Porn Star Martinis (

Whatever you opt for, enjoy your weekend!

Sadly, these teddy bears bouquets are only available in Japan...

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Shoes glorious shoes

According to an unspecified British women magazine 81% of the readers prefer buying shoes to sex.

This just proves that women's magazines contain a load of bollocks.

Nevertheless, I do like shoes, own a substantial amount of them and know a lot of people, boys and girls, who also love them.

The Kunsthal in Rotterdam hosts an exhibition about shoes, from the 1900 onwards, with hundreds of them from Victorian boots to contemporary stripper heels.

At the same time, the Rotterdam's Uitburo launched a call for pictures of your fav shoes through their FB or Instagram pages. The best ones win tickets to see the exhibition.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The little church in the praire

If you have ever been by metro from The Hague to Rotterdam, soon after Leidschenveen's stop, you will notice on the left an incongruous little hill surmounted by a white, equally little church.

The other day we finally went there by car to give a closer look and discovered in fact that the church is locked and is a piece of monumental art, built in what is, in fact, a pile of old rubbish.

It's called the Terp van Ledschenveen and to get there, just drive to the end of Vrouw Avenweg.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Portrait of a King

There has been a call for artists to submit possible official portraits of Willem Alexander, 12 were shortlisted and 3 were eventually chosen. Among them a photo of some other guy who's being a stand in for the King.

People can judge by themselves at the Rijkmuseum, where all the submission are on view till April, together with countless other portraits of Dutch Kings and Queens of the past.

Not one of the submission. Also, copyrighted.