Longer articles about living in the Netherlands, Dutch society, culture and travel plus third party content from our partners


What’s On: Rotterdam’s film festival welcomes you to Planet IFFR

What’s On: Rotterdam’s film festival welcomes you to Planet IFFR

The annual Rotterdam film festival has been regaling cinephiles with films from all over the world since 1972. It’ll be back in action this winter with another treasure trove of cinematic wonders. Brandon Hartley takes a look at the fest along with some of this year’s highlights. Whether you enjoy Oscar contenders, bizarre comedies from Japan or innovative short films, there’s something for every taste at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Now in its 46th edition, the festival is a bit different than its contemporaries and it remains one of the most ambitious galas of its kind in the world. While IFFR offers dozens of traditional film screenings for the public, it also features showcases for experimental movies and events for filmmakers that encourage them to chat with attendees rather than get blinded by flashbulbs while they stroll down a red carpet. There’s certainly less of the glitz and glamour that can be found at Cannes. IFFR is more about celebrating as many diverse films as possible instead of helping starlets earn themselves a spot in a People Magazine photo spread. The campaign for this year’s fest is ‘Welcome to Planet IFFR,’ which represents both its international focus and its efforts to remain accessible to cinema lovers from all walks of life. Planet IFFR ‘Everyone is welcome at Planet IFFR: from festival visitors to filmmakers, from day trippers and casual passers-by to film fanatics,’ says festival director Bero Beyer. ‘Everyone is free to roam the planet, wherever they please. Discover the caves, climb the peaks and dare peer down to the deep valley floors. And who knows, maybe new areas may be opened up in the years ahead, which at present are still completely unknown.’ The organisers have made strides in recent years to expand IFFR’s borders beyond the event itself. It now hosts a monthly film night at Rotterdam’s KINO theatre. The fest is also involved in efforts like the Propellor Film Tech Hub, a collaboration to develop new ways to produce and distribute movies in a world where seemingly more and more people would rather stay home than go to a movie theatre. ‘The industry needs a whole new dynamic, but for this to happen you need to get some initial movement,’ Beyer says. While theatre operators in other parts of the world might be fretting, the number of cinema visits in the Netherlands actually rose in 2016. However, only one in eight people who went to the movies last year saw a Dutch film. Should local filmmakers and film fest organisers start worrying, especially as they face increasing amounts of competition from services like Netflix? IFFR already has a few tricks up its sleeve. ‘We have our own video-on-demand service where IFFR films are available for rent or selling,’ IFFR spokesperson Cathelijne Beijn told DutchNews.nl. ‘Also we show series during our festival (episodes or even whole seasons).’ Despite these looming challenges, the fest continues to draw huge crowds and large numbers of films and filmmakers as well. ‘In 2016, the festival attracted 305,000 visitors and screened 477 films,’ Beijn said. ‘It also welcomed 299 directors and 1,914 film professionals from more than 50 countries.’ 2017 highlights The programme of events and screenings at the annual festival can be downright overwhelming, leaving many attendees with the feeling that they’ve caught IFFR’s omnipresent tiger mascot by the tail. Here’s just a few of this year’s highlights: Lemon This comedy-drama from the United States will serve as the opening night film on 25 January. It follows the trials and tribulations of a 40-something geek played by comedian Brett Gelman. The film, which also stars Arrested Development vets Judy Greer and Michael Cera, will have its official premiere a few days prior at the Sundance Film Festival. IFFR Live The third edition of this live ‘cinema experience’ will take place between 27 and 29 January. The events in Rotterdam will help premiere six new European films while they show in other cinemas as far away as Tel Aviv and Singapore, thus creating a series of the largest simultaneous film festival screenings anywhere on the planet. Afterwards, the audiences can participate in virtual Q&A sessions via social media with the filmmakers. Big Screen Competition Eight films will compete for this year’s VPRO Big Screen Award at the fest. They include Pop Aye, a film from Singapore about a disillusioned architect who goes on a trek through Thailand with an elephant and Marjorie Prime, an American science fiction film starring Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins. Black Rebels Programme This slate of films will take a look at issues that impact black communities around the world. The programme will include movies being screened for the first time in the Netherlands as well as classic dramas, shorts, documentaries, experimental films and even science fiction releases. ‘In addition, there is a masterclass with Moonlight director Barry Jenkins,’ Beijn points out. ‘As well as various Q&As with directors and a vibrant talk show that will both focus on the cultural divide, as well as the extensive influence of black culture on the arts.’ Two From Jim Jarmusch Director Jim Jarmusch played a big part in the evolution of independent cinema in the United States back in the 1980s with films like Stranger Than Paradise. His two most recent releases will screen at IFFR this year. Paterson stars Adam Driver as a bus driver navigating everyday life in New Jersey. Gimme Danger, Jarmusch’s documentary about the seminal punk band The Stooges, will also appear. The 2017 IFFR runs from 25 January - 5 February. The festival’s programme and ticket information can be found on its website.   More >


Seven things you need to know about skating in the Netherlands

Seven things you need to know about skating in the Netherlands

A keen skater back home? Do not think the fact you can do a triple lutz or a double toe loop will be appreciated. The Dutch have been forced onto skates almost as soon as they can walk and they are into distance and speed, not kunstschaatsen. 1. Will it freeze? As soon as it starts to get cold - like now - the Netherlands is overtaken by ice fever. It starts with the television weather forecasters, but after a few days everyone is at it. How much did the ice grow last night ? Will it snow and spoil everything? After a few days of this, the question on everyone’s lip is ‘Will there be an Elfstedentocht (the 200 km 11 city ice marathon)?’. We've not gotten quite that far this year because everyone knows the thaw is about to set in. 2. Technique Without natural ice, skaters have to make do with artificial outdoor tracks which are usually open from October to mid-March and get very busy on sunny days. Rent skates and take lessons if you want to show off a perfect pootje over – the long low cross-over glide which distance skaters use to effortlessly take corners. Staggering around the ice clutching your mates or, even worse, a chair is strictly for the under fives. Schoonrijden, a slow-glide form of outdoor skating, sometimes in national costume, has been included on the Dutch national heritage list. 3. The first marathon on natural ice When the temperature drops, speculation starts about the prospect of the first marathon on natural ice. The Netherlands has some 200 ice clubs who go all out to create outdoor ice rinks - by spraying a concrete track with water - when a spell of frost is predicted. The competition to stage the first marathon -  some 125 circles of the track - is usually a race between the ice clubs in Noordlaren (Groningen),  Veenoord (Drenthe) and Haaksbergen (Overijssel). This year (2017) the honours went to Noordlaren. You can find out which natural ice rinks are open here. 4. It giet oan An essential Friesan phrase to show you are in the know about skating. It giet oan - literally 'it's on' - is the triumphant way of announcing that an Elfstedentocht will take place. However, seeing as that last happened 20 years ago, it now tends to be used whenever the ice is thick enough for some sort of race. 5. The lure of skating outdoors If you are in the Netherlands during a cold snap and the canals and lakes outside the city are frozen over, you are a lucky person indeed. There is nothing like gliding over smooth natural ice – skating over frozen canals and rivers, passing islands and through reed beds. The Dutch skating union keeps a careful watch on when and where it is safe to skate outdoors. You will need to bring your own skates – and make sure they have been sharpened to cope with all the hobbles and bobbles in the ice. You will, of course, blunt them when you scramble over bits (it's called klunen) where the ice is too awful or a bridge. Popular skating centres will have formal routes ranging usually from 10 km to 40 km which you can follow. 40km is a long way when a bone-chilling northeasterly wind is blowing. 6. Koek en zopie Koek (biscuits) and zopie (something to drink) are an essential part of outside skating. Today zopie is usually hot chocolate or pea soup but the word is thought to come from zuipie, or tipple, and used to refer to a generous slug of jenever, or Dutch gin. Necessary after spending a few hours in that northeasterly wind. 7. Yippee, extra holidays If someone is ijsvrij – literally ice free – it does not mean they have been defrosted, but that they have been given an extra day’s holiday to enjoy some skating. Traditionally school children and workers would be given a day off if the roads were too dangerous because of snow and ice or it was too cold to work. But since the end of the last century, some companies have been giving staff time off for skating as a gesture of generosity. Well, it is either that or have nobody turn up anyway.  More >


Nine Dutch national parks and one nature reserve

Nine Dutch national parks and one nature reserve

The Wadden Sea has just been voted the best nature reserve in the Netherlands. Yes, the country is small and one of the most densely populated places on earth, but it's got plenty of natural attractions. Here are some of the best places to get away from it all – just ignore the odd Highland cow or military training exercise. 1. Schiermonnikoog The island of Schiermonnikoog (‘Schier’ is Middle Dutch for ‘grey’ and refers to the colour of the habit of the Cistercian monks who cultivated the island in the 15th century, while ‘eye’ is another word for ‘island’)) is one of the six Dutch Wadden Islands and packs a lot of landscapes  – beach, dunes, woods, salt marsh, tidal flats  – into its 5,400 hectares. Only the locals are allowed cars on the island, so either rent a bike or walk, or take the bus from the ferry. Schiermonnikoog is home to over 300 kinds of bird, hundreds of different plant species, including nine types of orchid, and has a permanent population of 942 which quadruples in the summer months. The place to stay on the island is the Van der Werff hotel: faded grandeur but with log fires in winter and you might spot the odd royal or celeb. Be aware that ferries tend to get cancelled in high winds during the winter months because of the risk of getting stuck on the mud flats. 2. Hoge Veluwe The beauty of some of the Dutch national parks is that they offer something for everyone. Take the Hoge Veluwe national park in the province of Gelderland. It’s a haven for nature lovers but also caters for those on whom the excitement of the call of the rare lesser spotted whatsit is lost. The park’s 5,400 hectares also house the Kröller-Müller museum, named after the wealthy couple who originally came up with the idea of combining culture and nature in their grounds. The crisis of the Twenties put the whole project in doubt, but in 1935 a solution presented itself: the grounds were turned into a foundation and – thanks to a loan from the state – became a National Park. This means you have to pay to get in, although the the park’s 1,700 white bikes, or 50 white sledges when it snows, are free to use. The museum and its sculpture garden are a delight and so is the Jachthuis Sint Hubertus, the hunting lodge whose architect Hendrik Berlage became so exasperated at the Kröller-Müllers’ frequent interference with his design that he left in a huff. 3. Oosterschelde The Oosterschelde national park in the province of Zeeland measures 37,000 hectares, making the largest in the country. The Netherlands being the Netherlands (i.e. small and practical), nature and trade live side by side. The Oosterschelde sea arm is an important shipping route, with some 45,000 ships carrying cargoes, most of which are potentially disastrous for the thousands of birds which come to roost on its tidal flats. The Zeeland mussel farms produce lovely fat – but non-fattening – mussels when there is an ‘r’ in the month, which must be paired with equally fat and calorific Belgian frites. The Oosterschelde storm surge barrier was the last part of the Delta project to be finished and one of the most fascinating attractions of the park is the museum dedicated to the 1953 flood which prompted this ambitious undertaking. The Watersnoodmuseum in Ouwekerk is housed in four concrete Phoenix caissons, the type used to close the breached dikes. It has a wealth of photo and film material which show the devastating impact of the spring tide as it engulfed people, animals and farms on that catastrophic night of February 1. 4. The Texel Dunes Texel is known as Europe’s last battlefield. In February 1945 the Germans stationed 800 Georgian prisoners of war on the island who had agreed to fight for the Nazis rather than starve to death in the PoW camp. On April 6 they rebelled and killed 400 Germans before being outnumbered after weeks of fighting. 117 Texelaars were killed. The surviving Georgian soldiers were sent back to the Soviet Union. Far from being rehabilitated, they most likely ended up in prison. The graves of the fallen can be seen at the Georgian cemetery Loladze, named after Shalva Loladze, the leader of the Georgian battalion. 5. De Zoom-Kalmhoutse Heide The  Zoom-Kalmhoutse Heide straddles the border between the Netherlands and Flanders. Its website is positively lyrical, almost certainly due to the input of the more poetic Belgians: ‘When the weather turns dry and sunny the ripe pine cones explode and release their winged seeds. The black woodpecker’s ‘krukrukru’ echoes through the glades and the mating call of the buzzards reverberates among the trees. The woodlark marks his territory with his sweet-sounding ‘lululu’’… The park, now some 6,000 hectares in size, was divided in 1843 when the Netherlands and Belgium became separate countries. All its landscapes – bogs, heath, pinewoods – are man-made. The woods, mostly on the Dutch side, were planted in the 19th century to provide fuel for factories and supports for mineshafts. The border also runs through the grounds of the Ravenhof-Moretusbos estate. Castle Ravenhof, a baroque pile built in 1710, is in Belgium while its extensive park and woods are on the Dutch side. 6. Oostvaardersplassen Nature reserve Oostvaardersplassen in the province of Flevoland became the focus of a public discussion a few years ago when a wild boar was spotted hanging around. It was shot forthwith by the park authorities on the grounds that it wasn’t supposed to be there. The good news is that the park has become a breeding ground for sea eagles. Ospreys have also been spotted. Horses are allowed to shape the marshy landscape. They are left to ‘live naturally’ which means they are not fed in times of food shortages, another controversial aspect which highlights the challenges of wildlife management in the Netherlands. 7. Lauwersmeer National Park Lauwersmeer in the province of Groningen (6,000 hectares) is another result of the Dutch keeping a wary eye on the sea. In 1969, a dam was built separating the then Lauwers sea from the Wadden sea in order to reduce the threat of flooding. The local fishermen were less than pleased to have to swap Zoutkamp harbour for Lauwersoog and reportedly flew the flags at half-mast when queen Juliana came to inspect the new dam. The Lauwersmeer, now a freshwater lake, and the surrounding area became one of Western Europe’s most important bird sanctuaries. Recently the park has had some success encouraging sea eagles to nest there. The peace and tranquillity is broken every so often by military exercises in neighbouring Marnewaard. The park has a number of landscapes each with its own particular flora. One of the best parts is Miss Ali’s patch, a piece of land named after a biologist who researched the plants in the area. In May and June the southern marsh orchids abound there and if you’re lucky you may spot the rare musk orchid. 8. De Grote Peel National Park De Grote Peel, on the border of Brabant and Limburg, is one of the few national parks that has no main roads, pylons or other structures to spoil the view. The park is a continuous stretch of raised bogs, a type of landscape of which just 4,000 hectares remain. The bogs used to take up 300,000 hectares and the resulting peat was used for fuel for centuries. In the 19th century peat began to be used on an industrial scale and by the 1930s reserves were all but depleted. Peat cutting was a seasonal job and winter was a time of hardship for the workers. The endless boggy landscape gave rise to many stories. Will- o’-the-wisps (perhaps burning swamp gas), said to be the souls of dead children, would lure the unwary traveller into a labyrinth of paths to a certain death and it was said a Roman soldier drowned in the bog, his only legacy the gold and silver helmet found many centuries later by a peat cutter. It is thought the helmet was probably a 4th century votive offering. 9. Zuid-Kennermerduinen The national park Zuid-Kennemerduinen in the province of Noord-Holland is just a hop and a skip away from Amsterdam and busy city folk  find their way there to cycle, walk or swim their stress away. Its 3,800 hectares is made up mostly of dunes and beach. Dutch people will remember being blackmailed by their parents into a ‘nice walk’ on a Sunday with the promise of a glass of lemonade at the Parnassia restaurant, which now goes by the trendier moniker of PaZ (Parnassia aan Zee, in case you thought it might have moved to the Hoge Veluwe, see above). The Kennemerduinen were once the playground of rich traders whose grand houses are now part of the park. The grounds of the Duin and Kruidberg estate, for example, have been left to nature, with highland cattle to keep things in check while bats have taken over the ice house. The Beeckestein estate, on the other hand, preserves its fine formal gardens. 10. Washington Slagbaai The Washington Slagbaai national park will take slightly longer to get to for most residents of the Netherlands. The Caribbean island of Bonaire, along with St Eustatius and Saba, used to make up the Dutch Antilles, but became special municipalities within the kingdom in 2010. The islands are now known as the Caribbean Netherlands. The islands all have national parks but this one, established in 1969, is the oldest. The land was left to the government by the head of the powerful Herrera family who, afraid his heirs might sell it to developers, stipulated it should remain undeveloped so that locals could enjoy it. The park’s diverse landscapes include sand dunes, a beach, mangroves, saliñas and dry forest. Wind and a proliferation of semi-wild goats are threatening some of the island’s native plant species. Bonaire is home to another pesky phenomenon, at least to some of the islanders: an increasing number of wealthy BN’ers (Dutch celebrities).   More >


Catch top Dutch acting talent in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives

Catch top Dutch acting talent in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives

Leading Dutch theatre group Toneelgroep Amsterdam is gathering up rave reviews in the English-speaking world of acting. 'I may not speak a word of Dutch but I know great acting when I see it,' wrote theatre critic Charles McNulty in the LA Times after catching one of Toneelgroep Amsterdam's performances during a foreign tour. 'But the overall scope of this wonderful project was impressive because of the acting quality of Toneelgroep Amsterdam. It made you want to go straight on to Amsterdam and catch the rest of their repertoire,' wrote The Independent. Now, non-Dutch speakers can enjoy the company's performances in Amsterdam, because the company provides surtitles in English at its Thursday performances. 'We want to welcome everybody who loves theatre, even if they don't understand Dutch,' the company says. The largest theatre group in the Netherlands is currently performing Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam, staring some of the Netherlands' foremost acting talents, including Halina Reijn and Ramsey Nasr. Rave reviews The performance, directed by Australian Simon Stone, is a not to be missed show and won rave reviews from the critics when it was introduced at the Holland Festival last year. Stone's adaptation of the script was approved by Woody Allen himself. 'Fabulous theatre about the vulnerability of love and the pain of getting older,' wrote Trouw, which gave the show five stars. 'It is delightful to watch such strong actors display their comic talents,' wrote the NRC in its four star review. 'It is delicious to recognise your own midlife crisis in someone else's marital problems and to laugh heartily at them,' the Telegraaf said in another four star piece. Amsterdam salon Members of the Amsterdam Salon are invited to see this hilarious and moving performance, followed by a backstage tour and drinks with the actors. Buy your tickets here. The Amsterdam Salon seeks to involve internationals with Amsterdam culture. It works together with the best cultural institutions in the Amsterdam region to organize special events for the international community. Date: Thursday 2 February 2017 Time: 19:30 - 23:30 Location: Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam. Drinks & snacks: 22:30 - 23:30 at the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam. Tickets: €35 - tickets also include drinks and snacks. Buy your tickets here.   More >


Seven Dutch ways to bring in the New Year

Seven Dutch ways to bring in the New Year

Out with the old and in with the new: Brandon Harley has some typically Dutch suggestions to celebrate the New Year Protect your fingers and letting others set off the fireworks Where can you watch fireworks on New Year's Eve? Well, there’s a good chance that one of your neighbours will spend a month’s salary on plenty of them so all you need to do is look out a window around midnight (or, in many areas, immediately after sunset, local regulations and nervous pets be damned). But there are plenty of professional displays that ring in the new year as well. Thousands of people line up along the Nieuwe Maas every year to watch the Erasmusbrug in Rotterdam burst into a cacophony of vibrant colours and lights displays. A bit wilder is the annual display orchestrated by Amsterdam businessman and rare book collector Joost Ritman on the bridge at the junction of the Bloemgracht and Prinsengracht. His display has become a beloved tradition in the city and you can read more about it here. The city’s main fireworks display, meanwhile, will take place at the Oosterdok near the Scheepvaartmuseum. But if you’ll be in The Hague, the banks of the Hofvijver will serve as an alternative party central with live DJs and a firework display at midnight. Dance until dawn Just about every club, pub, tavern, lounge, watering hole, brown bar and speakeasy in the country will be doing *something* for NYE. A quick head’s up though: many of them will close for private parties or will be filled to capacity long before it’s time for everyone to forgot the lyrics and mumble along to ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ Here’s Iamsterdam’s round up of many of the ones in the nation's capital. It features everything from an epic dance event at the Heineken Music Hall to a Great Gatsby-themed party at the KHL Koffiehuis. Attend a bonfire and blow up a milk churn Giant bonfires are an annual tradition on New Year's Eve all over Europe and the Netherlands is no exception. Just be prepared to duck. Many of these gatherings include setting Christmas trees ablaze and/or carbidschieten. This latter tradition involves tossing a bunch of carbide into an old-fashioned milk churn with water and waiting for the lid to blast off the top, creating an impressive fireball in the process. The largest bonfires can be found on the shores of Scheveningen and Duindorp. Every year the locals in these coastal communities construct wooden towers and set them on fire at midnight. Scheveningen’s blaze was so epic in 2015/2016 that it set a Guinness World Record. Here’s the rundown on their plans for this year but their neighbours to south in Duindorp may outdo them this time around. You can learn more about the ongoing rivalry by clicking here. Stay inside and stuff yourself full of oliebollen If you’d rather not celebrate the holidays with thousands of pyromaniacs determined to replicate the soundtrack of a World War 2 blitzkrieg, staying inside is always an option. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still celebrate with another cherished Dutch traditional: oliebollen (and even tastier variants like appelflappen). Stands that make and sell these delightful little balls of fried wonderfulness typically begin popping up on street corners around the country as early as mid-October. However, they receive a good chunk of their business on New Year's Eve. The lines in front of them can stretch for dozens of yards on December 31 so it’s best to go early and reheat them as midnight approaches (or make your own at home if freshness is a priority). Dutch news outlet AD conducts a contest every year to determine the best oliebollen stand in the country. They likely won’t reveal this year’s winner until the last few days of the month but Meesterbakker Voskamp in Spijkenisse nabbed the honour for 2015. Watch the Oudejaarsconference If you can understand Dutch, this televised tradition will return once more. It typically stars a comedian who pontificates and pops out punchlines about various events that took place over the course of the prior year. This year's edition will feature a female celebrity for the first time ever. DJ, singer and comedian extraordinaire Claudia de Breij will offer her thoughts on 2016 during a telecast performance at Rotterdam’s Oude Luxor Theatre beginning at 22:00 on NPO 1. Listen to NPO’s Top 2,000 countdown A bus began making the rounds in late November to collect votes for this annual countdown of the top 2,000 songs of all time (as determined by whoever was willing to stand in the cold and cast their vote on an iPad but people could also offer their opinions online). It’s considered a big deal and roughly half the country tunes in for at least some portion of the broadcast, which begins at 9am on Christmas Day on Radio 2 and continues through midnight on NYE. A long-running joke is that Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ always snags the # 1 slot but the Eagles ‘Hotel California’ nabbed it in 2014 and John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ won last year Throw yourself into the sea Do you enjoy exceptionally cold water? Do you like jumping into it alongside thousands of people who are fighting wicked hangovers? Then smoked sausage kingpin Unox’s biggest annual New Year's Day Swim might be right up your alley. Head to Scheveningen, plop an orange stocking cap on your noggin (free with every paid admission along with a souvenir pennant and a bowl of ‘special edition’ soup) and get ready to plunge into the North Sea. Or just pose for a quick selfie near the waterline and call it good. The Scheveningen event often sells out though. If you’d like to take a dip in quieter waters, check out the overview of dozens of other New Year’s dives located at beaches and lakes around the country.  More >


Make the most of the Dutch countryside – a few winter walks

Make the most of the Dutch countryside – a few winter walks

The Dutch are keen on walking and the countryside is riddled with signposted walks to encourage you to get out and about. Here's a few suggestions to help you walk off the effect of all that festive food. De Rijp - 7 to 22 km The pretty village of De Rijp in Noord Holland is famous as a place to go boating, but it also offers several walks past tiny villages and, outside the breeding season, across fields into the big wide open. Pick up a map at the VVV in the heart of the village. De Rijp has plenty of choice for lunch at the end or start of your walk. Website Zwanenwater - 4.5 km In Noord-Holland province close to the Callantsoog seaside village, Zwanenwater is a small nature reserve. The walk takes you through birch woods and over dunes around the edge of the lake, with a stop-off at a bird hide. In the spring, the grass is full of purple orchids. Website De Zilk - 9.4 km There are lots of signposted walks in the dunes west of Amsterdam but this is our favourite. It's not as busy as the others but that may be due to the lack of a cafe. The walk (follow the blue route) takes you through woods, past the gliding club and across high dunes with great views (a perfect spot for a picnic). Excellent for spotting deer. Website Oostvaardersplassen - 1-7 km This nature reserve on the 'new' province of Flevoland is the home of a pair of breeding sea eagles - so if its bird life you are after, this is the place to be. You'll also spot deer and wild ponies. Website Lage Vuursche - 2-4 km There are lots of walks to suit all tastes through the heaths and woodlands near Hilversum that make up Lage Vuursche. Set your route planner for Drakenstein where most of them start. Dogs welcome on many walks. Website Round Marken - 6 km Marken was once an island but is now connected to the mainland by a road over a dyke. Park as soon as you cross the water and hit the dyke path heading east. You'll pass typical houses with great wooden constructions in the water which keep the ice at bay during big freezes and a light house with an inviting little beach in summer. Lots of bird life for bird watchers. The route conveniently hits the village itself about 3/4 round, so its a good point to stop of for a break. Best avoided in strong winds. Website St Pietersberg, Maastricht - 10 km If you visit the marl mines on the outskirts of Maastricht, build in time to take in a walk across the Netherlands' highest hills. The 10 km (red) route takes in spectacular views over the quarry, winds through woods and past old mine entrances, and dips into Belgium. It ends with a bit of a boring walk back to Maastricht up the river. Website Oisterwijk - 9.4 km This is a charming walk through woods and past little lakes left by peat extraction between Den Bosch and Tilburg. Pick up the route (follow the blue arrows) at the Oisterwijkse Bossen en Vennen nature centre. The cafe is a good option for lunch but can be somewhat overwhelmingly full of children if you are after a quieter time. There is another stop off cafe around half way. Website Oppad, near Hilversum - 9.3 km The Oppad is an old path followed for hundreds of years by churchgoers across the fields and past the peat workings between Kortenhoef and ‘s-Graveland. Pick up the path next to the church and you will find yourself striding out into the fields. Just keep going in a straight line. Rich in wildlife, you might even be lucky enough to spot a kingfisher. Website Lange Afstands Wandelpaden (100 km +) If you are very keen walkers, the Netherlands also has its share of long-distance footpaths or LAWs. Like the grand randonnee in France, they use red and white stripes on signs to indicate which way to go so you may well come across them while out on the shorter strolls listed above. The Netherlands has 35 LAWS, which have to be over 100 km to qualify. Website  More >


Last-minute tips for comparing your health insurance

You've just a few days left to decide whether or not to change health insurance provider or policy next year. It can be tough to find the time to organize your health insurance for 2017, especially during the busy holiday season. Yet, it is very important to check whether your current policy still suits your needs and provides value for money before the end of the year. Switching to another health insurance provider may easily save up you to €300. The following checklist provides some final tips for changing your health plan: Use a comparison website You can easily compare health insurance plans (in Dutch: zorgverzekeringen vergelijken) using a comparison website. These sites give you an overview of the cheapest and most suitable insurance plans that are tailored to your health needs. ZorgWijzer.nl is one of the few sites that offers this service in English. Prevent redundant health cover Most Dutch citizens are over-insured, meaning they have bought an expensive supplementary insurance plan which they barely or never use. Hence, it is wise to check whether you actually use the coverages that are included in your supplemental insurance plan. This includes: Dental care Alternative medicine Physiotherapy for non-chronic diseases The real question you have to ask yourself is whether it is more profitable to buy supplementaryl insurance or pay for extra health care yourself. Raise your excess for a premium discount The compulsory excess for the Dutch health insurance is €385 in 2017. Raising this excess to a maximum of €885 will give a you discount on your premium that goes up to over €20 per month, depending on the insurance company. Raising the excess may be interesting for people who: Don’t expect to make a lot of healthcare costs (and thus pay no or little compulsory excess) Have a buffer that allows them to pay a large medical bill when necessary. Check ZorgWijzer.nl to see how much you can save by raising your mandatory excess. Don’t wait too long! You have until December 31 to change to a cheaper (or better) health insurance for next year. When you change before the first of January your old policy will be automatically cancelled by the new insurance provider. If you are thinking about switching your health insurance, you may want to check ZorgWijzer.nl. When you switch, your new cover and policy conditions take effect starting on the first of January 2017.  More >


How to celebrate Christmas in the Netherlands

Like most other places where they celebrate Christmas, the Netherlands does tend to grind to a halt until the New Year. But what else should you be aware of about the festive season in the Low Countries? Here's the traditional DutchNews.nl list of 10 key things you need to know about Christmas in the Netherlands. Christmas trees Tradition has it that Christmas trees don't make an appearance in the Netherlands until after Sinterklaas, so as soon as the Sint has left, the tree sellers move in. The Dutch love their trees - in fact they love Christmas decorations in general. The top floor of the Bijenkorf department stores are always worth checking out for the latest in tree fashions, with matching ribbons, table placements and mood candles. Christmas lights Christmas lights in the Netherlands tend to be in terribly good taste - lots of illuminated canal bridges and trees in gardens - but if you want tacky Santas, you can find them if you know where to look. Den Ilp, a little village north of Amsterdam, is famous for its over-the-top displays. Kerstpakket One of the joys of being employed by a Dutch company is the annual kerstpakket (Christmas hamper) distributed to staff in the days before the Christmas festivities. Around four million people will get one this year, most of them worth around €40 - companies have to be careful otherwise you'll end up paying tax on your hamper. Kerstpakketten used to be notorious for their tins of chicken ragout. Luckily, themes such as tea-tasting are on the increase, as are gift vouchers. Nachtmis The only time lots of people go to church. The midnight mass is usually a jolly affair of Christmas carols and lots of twinkling lights in a heated church (if you’re lucky) followed by a Christmas breakfast with lots of kerststol. The Stadsschouwburg theatre in Amsterdam has an alternative for people who want the experience without the religion. No presents It used to be that the Dutch did not do presents at Christmas - which can be very embarrassing when you present your in-laws with a beautifully packed gift from under the tree. Nowadays, the great god of commercialisation is doing his best to make sure Christmas presents are catching on. If in doubt, ask. That good old Dutch bluntness has its advantages. Kerstman The Dutch name for Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Definitely still a very poor relative to Sinterklaas and not really welcome. Food The Dutch don’t have a particular Christmas staple. The main meal can be anything from venison to mussels or rabbit stew but rollade - rolled up pork with herbs - is also very popular. The only real designated Christmas foods are kerstkransjes, the little biscuits tied to Christmas trees with ribbons, and kerststol, a delicious current bread with a little island of ground almond paste in the middle of each slice - unless you get the end bit. Television It’s traditionally crap. There’s no other way of putting it. Boring Christmas circus shows and boring films you've seen 100 times before. However, the advent of all those alternative streaming services means everyone can sit around in a stupor watching whatever they like. The King's Christmas message King Willem-Alexander's address to the nation, recorded weeks before. Tweede Kerstdag Second Christmas day is the day you get to eat the meal all over again with your other family - if you have a partner that is. Christmas tree bonfires Otherwise known as vandalism. Most people hold on to their trees until most of the needles have worked their way into the carpet, pets and the grooves of the laminate flooring. When the trees are thoroughly dried out they are put outside (leaving what is left of the needles neatly spread on the stairs of your building) where they make excellent fuel for Christmas tree bonfires. In Amsterdam Noord they make a particularly spectacular one.  More >


Water from heaven celebrated with Amsterdam beer launch

Water from heaven celebrated with Amsterdam beer launch

It rains a lot in the Netherlands, as anyone living here cannot have failed to notice. So why not do something useful with it? Molly Quell looks at a new beer brewed using rainwater. A flood in Copenhagen in 2011 resulted in much damage to the city. But it also began the development of Amsterdam’s first beer made from rainwater. The widespread water problems in the Danish capital set off alarm bells among Amsterdam officials. The city's waterboard Waternet came up with an initiative - named Rainproof - to focus on boosting the city's capacity to absorb the surplus water, while putting the rain to good use . The success of one such project was celebrated last week at the Volkshotel in the Weesperzijde neighbourhood of Amsterdam where a crowd gathered to toast a new beer. The beer, called Code Blond as a nod to the Dutch weather service’s weather warnings, was the brainchild of Joris Hoebe, who owns the creative agency Spektor. Hoebe also serves as a coach at Amsterdam's hbo college which is where he met Pavel van Deutekom, a project manager at the college's start-up incubator MediaLAB. Home brew Hoebe had been given home-brewing kit by his mother the previous Christmas and had been dabbling in beer brewing. He realised the process used a lot of water and approached Van Deutekom with the idea to make the process more sustainable using rainwater. 'He [Hoebe] asked me if we could try to make beer with rainwater so I said sure,' says Pavel. He rigged up a system to collect 40 litres and they were off. Ultimately, it was brewed at De Prael. The Amsterdam-based brewery specifically hires people with physical and mental disabilities. When brewer Thomas Gesink was approached by the Hemelswater group, he was keen on the idea. 'We see the issue with rainwater as a social issue as well, so it fit into our mission statement,' Gesink says. Acidity The first batch of rainwater was collected from the Volkshotel in Amsterdam, where the launch event took place. The beer itself is the same recipe as De Prael’s Bitterblond, but uses the collected rainwater rather than tap water. The taste is similar but softer, Gesink says: 'We were concerned about the acid level, but ultimately, it was only slightly higher than the water we were using.' The rainwater is run through a special filtration system, also developed by the group, to ensure it is safe for drinking. The initially batch of the beer was 1,000 litres but it proved to be so popular, the brewery has continued to make it and it’s now available at a number of cafes in the city as well as in bottles. De Prael is looking to expand its brewery by opening a section location which Gesink wants to have operate completely with rainwater. And another MediaLAB project has found a different alcoholic use. They’ve created a bottled gin and tonic made with gin distilled from rainwater. Heaven’s water indeed.  More >


Great things to do in the Netherlands over the Christmas break

Great things to do in the Netherlands over the Christmas break

Christmas lights, winter circuses, shopping for that perfect present and seasonal theatre - there is a lot on in the Netherlands for the festive season. Esther O'Toole has a few suggestions. Amsterdam Winter Parade A massive hit over the last few years this dinner and theatre event provides an unusual alternative to your usual Christmas fare. Waiter and entertainers use the table as a stage and perform both theatrical and culinary wonders for your delight. Kid friendly (adult supervision needed, reduced dinner prices for youngsters). Website Coppelia Coppelia is one of the traditional Christmas ballets but this version promises to be anything but traditional. With funky, brightly coloured design and choreography from Ted Brandsen it’s suitable for all ages 4 and up. Website Jaap Eden skating courses If you, or your kids, can’t stand being cooped up indoors throughout the school holidays, you might want to take advantage of the week long skating courses on offer at the Jaap Eden rink. You can follow a course of two hours a day that is guaranteed to improve your moves on the ice. Website The Hague English theatre The English Language Theatre of the Hague has been going for over 10 years now an it’s Christmas production of A Christmas Carol has become an annual tradition. It’s so popular that tickets for the first shows are already sold out. But, hoorah, extra performances have been laid on for 19th and 20th December in the Hague. Website Christmas at Duivenvoorde Castle It’s a castle, it’s Christmas - the two together spell magic. Take a guided tour or shop at the Christmas market in the grounds. Website TINK Amazing Shop Windows Still got some Christmas shopping to catch up on? Tink are running a spectacular competition around the theme of A Royal Winter. 75 competing shops will kit out their windows in style. You can walk the route while grabbing some bargains, and win festive prizes by voting for your favourites. Website Utrecht University Museum Utrecht Hands-on and affordable, Utrecht University’s Museum has interesting scientific fun for all the family. Whether they’re interested in plants (the Oude Hortus) physics (they have their own particle accelerator) or experimenting (Youthlab) there are multiple activities that run alongside their regular exhibitions. Website The Dom Tower History buffs and art lovers are able to enjoy a guided tour up the tallest church tower in the country; which will be specially lit through December by London light-art collective Speirs + Major, as part of the Trajectum Lumen city tour. Website Christmas Circus All around the country at this time of year, the circus descends. One of the biggest, Het Winter Circus, this year visits Utrecht, The Hague, Amsterdam and Maastricht. It promises a spectacular show including motor stunts, clowns and...cows! Website Rotterdam Silent Night Indie Pop Festival Spread across four locations in the city (and also heading to Lelystad) indie pop-fest, Het Stille Nacht, showcases the best international singer songwriter, americana, and indie-pop talent. Website MiniWorld Rotterdam Mini people, like mini things. If you’ve been to Madurodam then this promises to be the is funkier, modern version; showing you Rotterdam ‘in het klein’. Comes complete with moving trains to carry the 27,000 residents around and, at Christmas, the city in miniature will be as twinkly as the real thing. Website The National Fireworks Festival The biggest New Year fireworks in the country will once again take place in Rotterdam. It’s free to go and watch things explode to the sound of thousands of awestruck onlookers, and should be better than ever this year as it is the 10th edition. Website Elsewhere ESA - Noordwijk You always wanted to be an astronaut didn’t you? Well for big kids and small (or those who have had a bauble overdose already) why not head over to Noordwijk and explore the European Space Agency’s permanent exhibition? Andre Kuijpers original Soyez capsule is now part what’s on display. Website Cool Event - Scheveningen Cool Event sees the Scheveningen seaside transformed into a veritable winter wonderland. Including a 600 sq metre ice rink, ice sculpture display and a Palace Fun Slide on the boulevard which takes 20 minutes top to bottom! Website Santa runs What seems to have first started as a radio station promo a few years ago in Rotterdam has turned into a bit of a phenomenon. Now, up and down the country you can watch masses of Santas run through the streets in the name of charity, or join in yourself with family, friends or colleagues. http://www.santarunhaarlem.nl/ (16 Dec) http://www.santarun-groningen.nl/ (17 Dec)   More >


This man photographed strangers in front of the same wall for seven years

This man photographed strangers in front of the same wall for seven years

In 2009 artist Hans Rietbergen started photographing people as they walked past his home for a series of portraits of everyday street life in The Hague. Nearly 2,000 shots later, he tells Gordon Darroch (no. 1958) how a small project turned into a personal odyssey. If you were asked to name the most photographed spots in the Netherlands you'd probably think of the Rijksmuseum, the bulb fields outside Haarlem or the Kinderdijk windmills. Not a nondescript brick wall in The Hague. But over the last seven years Hans Rietbergen has built up a collection of hundreds of photos of people walking past the same spot across the road from his house on Beeklaan. Exactly the same spot, right down to the paving stones and the break line in the wall where the colour of the bricks changes from pale red to a more fiery ochre. Since 2009 Hans has been dashing out of his front door to stop passers-by and persuade them to stand and pose by the wall. 'I look out from my balcony, or I'm just going in or out of the house, and I see someone walking by, so I call out to them,' he says. 'Sometimes I go after them on my bike. I tell them about my project and ask if they want to be in it. I take my camera and my books of photos in a bag so they can see it's not just a hobby. Around three in every 100 people I ask say no.'     Hans calls his project Langslopers - “passers-by”, to reflect the fact that his subjects are mostly selected by chance. 'I want to show the beauty of ordinary people,' he says. 'That's what it's about for me: snapshots of human beauty.' All the subjects face to the right, the preferred pose is leaning forward on one foot with the other on the point of leaving the ground. 'There was one woman who wanted to look to the left and I said, “Sorry, I'm not taking your picture”. It's very important. The first one faced to the right and that's how it has to stay.' On the back of every photo Hans meticulously records its number in the sequence, the date and the subject's first name. Taken together they form a montage of everyday suburban life: families with children, people out walking their dogs, rucksack-laden tourists, householders bringing the shopping home, pensioners out for a stroll, musicians with their instruments, policemen and women in uniform, workmen with the tools of their trade – brooms, ladders, shovels. And because it's the Netherlands, there are plenty of people on bikes and even a couple on horseback. There are people out in all weathers, in raincoats and umbrellas. 'I've been out in snow, rain, force 12 gales. Every day is a good day,' he says.     Occasionally Hans selects or invites people to pose for him, such as the city's mayor, Jozias van Aartsen, whose visit a few weeks ago was the outcome of years of dogged pursuit. 'Once I was out on my racing bike and I overtook a policewoman, and as I went by I said under my breath: 'you'd look good in my photo project.' She came back past me and said: 'What do you mean by that?' So I stopped, got off the bike, gave her the full story. It turned out she used to be a model and she'd worked at my local police station. So she came over and I must have taken 15 or 20 pictures. She did everything: lifting her bike, on the walkie-talkie, holding her pepper spray. She thought it was great.'     The idea came to Hans in December 2007 as he watched an elderly man walk past his balcony every week, always at the same time. 'I went after him and discovered was a retired musician who came from Voorburg [a commuter town 12km away] to play the piano for the old people. He was 90 years old himself, he did it purely for pleasure, every week. And it got me thinking, maybe it would be interesting to do a short photo series.' Initially he conceived of the project as a series of around 25 portraits of people who populated his street: the postman, neighbours, people on their way to work or school. But the desire to take one more shot kept getting the better of him. After shooting the first 1,000 pictures, all on film, he published a book, titled The Postman Said No – his local postie had turned down six requests to have his picture taken – and held an exhibition in a local church. The 488 photos he selected were arranged in five rows, forming a wall of pictures of a wall. As he closes on the 2,000 mark Hans is hoping to organise another large exhibition, perhaps in The Hague's Fotomuseum.     Hans has photographed people from 60 countries, and every one has brought a story. 'Sometimes I can be standing talking to someone for 45 minutes and then realise we still haven't taken the picture. People come back to say thanks. Sometimes they bring apple pie because I took the last picture of their grandma the week before she died.' And the series has thrown up some stunning coincidences, such as the family with a baby who he photographed one day in July 2011 (351, above). Three years later he was looking out over his balcony when he saw a couple with a young child cycling past. 'In a split-second I thought, oh my God, it's them! I got on my bike, chased them all the way to the church on Weimarstraat, and sure enough it was them. So we chatted and I gave them a copy of the book, and then I came home and looked up the picture, and it was exactly the same day – July 27. All is coincidence!' The only remaining question is how long Hans plans to keep going. 'I've been asked this question a lot and I decided at the start of the year that I'll only stop when I can't go on. I'll do it as well as possible for as long as possible. I'm 68, I've collected so many great stories. I don't intend to stop.'     If you'd like to find out more about Hans Rietbergen's project you can email him at jghrietbergen@hotmail.com or visit his Facebook page.  More >


How online maps are helping Haiti rebuild after Hurricane Matthew

Since Hurricane Matthew swept through Haiti last month Paul Uithol and a team of volunteers have been using online maps to help rebuild devastated communities, as he explains to Moira Holden Modern disaster relief is about data as much as food and shelter. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful storm to hit the Atlantic for a decade, aid agencies in Haiti have been using data from OpenStreetMap to plan the distribution of vital supplies to areas of the country. ‘Not everywhere is covered by Google Maps, and in particular not the less developed areas that also have little resources and capacity to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,’ says Paul Uithol of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). ‘The least mapped countries are those which have massive issues.’ The 34-year-old became involved in HOT two years ago, having started using OSM as a student at the University of Twente. ‘It struck me immediately as an awesome and very powerful way to make use of the OSM platform,’ he says. Established in 2006, OpenStreetMap (OSM) is dedicated to providing a web platform to create a free and open map of the entire world. The American Red Cross is one of the agencies that used its data as it helps to rebuild Haiti. Crucial information on roads, buildings, schools, hospitals and shelters helps it to the priority areas in Haiti and estimate what support they need. Most data supplied by HOT comes from volunteers – the organisation has been working on disaster response projects with the help of local communities. Relay race Paul's background is in telematics – a combination of electrical engineering and computer science – and cartography. Paul worked with friends on a system to try to keep track of the runners in the Batavierenrace, the world’s largest relay race, to ‘try to find some order in the chaos’ of 8,000 runners travelling over a 200km course. ‘We initially made some horrible mistakes in our usage of maps and treatment of cartographic detail,’ he said. However, with the help of the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation of the University of Twente (ITC), his team developed the Batavieren Positioning System (BPS). After university Paul founded a company in location-based services, using lots of open geographical data and services on projects for government agencies, including the Dutch railway network NS. ‘Some years and companies later, I found myself in Dar es Salaam, and in a position to apply my combined cartographic and management knowledge in a completely different context,’ he says. ‘It’s been an incredible experience since then.’ 'Pure crisis management' Paul has also been to Tanzania and Uganda to galvanise communities into carrying out mapping exercises to help with the severe seasonal flooding. In Dar es Salaam, the objective of the project is to map all of the drainage and water systems of the city with the help of students and volunteers. The collected data will be worked into improvements to the infrastructure so that preventive measures can be taken to reduce the threat of flooding. Many of the volunteers in Tanzania had been directly affected by the problem, so they are highly motivated to make a difference. ‘Universities are perfect locations to find bright, young people willing to take on difficult challenges,’ says Paul. ‘Moreover, these are also the people that often turn out to be the future leaders in their country and can benefit a lot from the experience and knowledge gained. ‘Being in the middle of it, at times it can be pure crisis management. It’s very hectic and things will go wrong in new and unexpected ways just about every day. There are cultural challenges because management styles differ in effectiveness in different cultures, or time is not regarded as so important, making it hard to arrange appointments or have people be when and where you’d like them to be.’ Global reach HOT has 23 staff and 20,000 volunteers around the globe. For Haiti over 2000 users contributed more than 2.5 million map edits, based on imagery before and after the hurricane – some of the data had already been available since the 2010 earthquake. Medecins Sans Frontieres is another important partner for HOT because it uses OSM data to co-ordinate vaccination campaigns, fumigation, and contact tracing – during the Ebola crisis – as well as other actions to stop the spread of disease. Following the Nepal earthquake in 2015, a unit of the Canadian Armed Forces used crowdsourced data, satellite imagery and highly detailed maps to reach remote villages. More OSM data helped to direct aid in the wake of major landslides in Sri Lanka in April last year. ‘I don’t really see myself going back to commercial software engineering any time soon,’ says Paul. ‘The work I’m doing with the communities in Uganda, Tanzania and in other countries is immensely rewarding, and I really enjoy seeing so many people grow and learn so much during these projects and to be able to play a part in that.’  More >


Dutch health insurance: make sure you check your policy

Dutch health insurance: make sure you check your policy

Dutch health insurance premiums and provisions fluctuate every year so it is definitely worthwhile checking whether your current insurance policy still suits your needs and your budget. The end of the year is the time when Dutch health insurance companies go all out to attract new customers with tempting offers and special deals. In fact, the difference between the cheapest and most expensive health insurance policies on offer in the Netherlands will go up to over € 250 euro in 2017, according to ZorgWijzer.nl. So shopping around can cut your health insurance bill by a tidy sum. However, price is not the only thing you should take into consideration when comparing health insurances. Chances are your current policy does not meet your specific needs or wishes anymore. For example, why should you cover yourself for maternity care or orthodontics when your children have already left the family home? Too much choice? This all may sound easy, but there are so many different types of policy, benefits and brands which should be taken into account when looking for a new insurance company that many people just give up. Fortunately, ZorgWijzer.nl offers an English health insurance comparison tool which will make this whole process a lot easier. You will find out that signing up with another health insurance provider may often prove to be beneficial. What changes next year? Like every year, the government has made some changes to health insurance (zorgverzekering) in 2017. The average Dutch health insurance policy will cost around €95 more next year, or around €8 a month. People on low incomes are often entitled to financial aid (zorgtoeslag) from the government which will probably offset next year's premium hikes. Families with average to high incomes, however, are the ones who have to pay the price. This makes shopping around for a cheaper deal an even more sensible option. Fortunately, the mandatory excess (eigen risico) of €385 remains the same in 2017. Several political parties want to reduce the excess or even scrap it altogether, but that won't be an issue until after the March general election. In addition, very few changes are being made to the basic insurance policy. These are the most important items which are now included: Blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) in case of a medical necessity Circumcision, in case of a medical necessity Prosthetic front teeth for the under 23s who were involved in an accident Switching is easy Now is the time to switch if you are unhappy with the service, monthly premium or cover that you insurance company provides. Luckily though, switching is easy and can usually be done in less than 15 minutes. When you switch within the six-week changing period (November and December), your new health insurance company will make sure your previous policy is cancelled. This is an automatic process so you don’t have to do anything yourself. If you are thinking about switching your health insurance, you may want to check ZorgWijzer.nl. This site offers several English guides and an English tool that will help you find new, suitable and affordable health insurance for 2017.  More >


British royal painting return to their spiritual home of the Netherlands

British royal painting return to their spiritual home of the Netherlands

Works of art owned by the British royal family are back on Dutch soil in an exhibition, At Home in Holland, at the Mauritshuis, The Hague. By Moira Holden The paintings now on loan from queen Elizabeth II were originally collected by her predecessors during a surge of enthusiasm for the Dutch artists of the Golden Age. Most of the 22 paintings on display today were bought by George IV during the early 19th century. This royal collection is considered one of the most important collections of Dutch art anywhere in the world and reflects the huge influence the artists from the Netherlands had on the English art world. The first purveyor of the English monarch’s artworks in 1625 was Dutch. ‘The style appealed to English collectors,’ explains Jane Choy, guide at the Mauritshuis. ‘The genre of painting everyday life and its details was popular until the mid-nineteenth century before the rise of the Impressionists. England had a close relationship with Dutch art because the English did not have this custom of painting, so many Dutch artists went over to England.’ Daily life The genre movement focuses on ordinary Dutch people’s everyday lives and leaves a unique insight into the social history of the Golden Age. The first link between this art and the British royal family came when Gerrit Dou’s The Young Mother was given to Charles II. The Dutch republic gave him the ‘Dutch gift’ when he left Holland to become king of England in 1660. Charles was so impressed that he asked Dou to become his court artist, but the artist turned him down, saying ‘I would rather live like a prince in Leiden than work for a prince’. Dou was a student of Rembrandt and later founded the Leiden School of Fine Art. His painting stayed in England until William III inherited the royal collection and sent the picture back to decorate the Het Loo palace, at Apeldoorn. It remained in the Netherlands, despite queen Anne asking for it back, and is now owned by the Mauritshuis. Genre The genre stage of Dutch art brought in a highly detailed record of daily life for the lower classes of society. Artists concentrated on the setting of their paintings, people’s clothing, objects surrounding them, the expressions on their faces, the interaction between them and, in some cases, inserting hidden messages. Paintings by Adriaen van Ostade vividly portray interaction between men and women. An Elderly Couple in an Arbour shows a frequent theme in Dutch art – a man attempting to persuade a woman to drink. Other everyday social interaction is shown by Pieter de Hooch with his Card Players in a sunlit Room and A Courtyard in Delft which chronicles women at their work of spinning and collecting milk. Highlight The stand-out painting in the collection is Delft-born Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, which was initially wrongly attributed to Frans van Mieris the Elder until 1866 when it was recognised as a Vermeer masterpiece. The Venetian collector Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini had purchased the picture in 1718 and it was eventually bought by George III, who had principally wanted the 50 Canaletto paintings alongside it and dismissively referred to it as a ‘little nothing’. Now it is hailed for its perspective and the way in which it draws in the viewer’s eyes to the back of the interior to look at the two figures around the instrument. The mirror above the woman’s head reflects the legs of Vermeer’s easel and the inscription on the instrument translates into ‘Music is the balm of sadness and the companion of joy’. Moral message The most famous painter of genre scenes is probably Jan Steen – the exhibition showcases several of his works portraying the working classes, often at play. ‘He uses comedy in a happy scene, but usually there is a little moral message in there too,’ says Choy. ‘Jan Steen tells a story whereas Vermeer creates an atmosphere.’ The scene in A Twelfth Night Feast: The King drinks shows the boy who has been chosen as king for the evening while another character has an exquisitely detailed wicker basket on his head, which signifies gluttony. Some of his paintings include an owl, a symbol of folly, which gives a ‘gentle condemnation’, says Choy. Innuendo Another highlight of the exhibition is Steen’s A Woman at Her Toilet. She is gazing seductively at the viewer and pulling off her stocking – or putting it back on after a tryst - suggesting a woman of ill-repute. ‘George IV bought these paintings not only for their technical brilliance, but also for their subject matter,’ says Choy. ‘I don’t think he was bothered by propriety – I think he liked those little sexual entendres.’ At Home in Holland: Vermeer and his contemporaries from the British Royal Collection, runs until 8 January 2017. www.mauritshuis.nl  More >


Amsterdam Light Festival brightens up dark days

Amsterdam Light Festival brightens up dark days

From tulips to lace, from the experimental to the spectacular, this year's Amsterdam Light Festival involves 35 art installations across the city, giving locals and tourists a light spectacle during December and January. By Julia Corbett Picked from a selection of 1800 applicants, designers, architects and artists have contributed from all over the world to create light art that is innovative and designed specifically to be showcased in Amsterdam. Now in its 5th year, Amsterdam Light Festival can be enjoyed by water on canal tours and on foot when the walking tour opens later this month. Laser lights have been used to show off of some of the city's most famous buildings, while massive tulips that dazzle and change colour are among the top pieces of art that can be enjoyed while aboard canal boats in the city. Launching this year’s festival, chairman Felix Guttmann said: 'There are three reasons for doing this festival, to give artists the chance to showcase the most innovative in light artistry, to make the dark winter months more bearable with light and to make Amsterdam attractive to visitors in the winter. 'There are so many artists who have created these pieces specifically for Amsterdam and have been exclusives in the sense that they are site specific and culturally conscious.' Rogier van der Heide, who is in his final year of working as artistic director of the festival, added: 'Within the first hour of opening up applications we had 500 applicants and nearly 2000 in total. It is a global platform for the progression of light art that is attractive to artists across the world. 'Our exhibits on the water route are large and vivid and monumental and were chosen by an international panel of judges. Then by the zoo and the opera house you have the smaller exhibits that are more interaction based and experimental. This we call the ‘nursery room’, where young artists and talent are given a platform. This is where science, technology and art combine.' Described as the 'jewel in the crown' of the festival, The Lace was designed to echo the shape of traditional Dutch bonnets and is made of special reflective material to glow as it is suspended over the Herengracht near the Royal Palace. The piece was created by Massachusetts based architects Choi+Shine. Creative teams revealed that they had been working on the project for over a year before it came to fruition and was unveiled to the public. Light Waves, designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects and Jólan van der Wiel reflects 3,000 LED lights that change and move according to movement and changes in weather. Francine van den Berg from Bentham Crouwel Architects, said: 'We have been working on this since 2015 and are so excited to see the result tonight. Many more of our team will also come to see the art being realised on the water. 'We developed this technology, where the lights are controlled by the wind and weather, which we have now patented, so we will use this again in the future.' Visitors can explore the light spectacle by boat from December 1 2016 to January 22. Walking tours will be launched on December 15.  More >


10 of the best: DutchNews.nl readers photograph the Netherlands

10 of the best: DutchNews.nl readers photograph the Netherlands

To celebrate DutchNews.nl's 10th anniversary, we asked our Facebook page friends to submit their favourite photos which they think best sum up the Netherlands. Yes, all the cliches were there, but so was Albert Einstein. Here are the five winners and the five runners-up. This photo had so many votes on Facebook, we suspect a little help from family and friends. But it was also a winner with the DutchNews.nl team. This reminds us of walks on a chilly winter's day. We know clogs are out of fashion among all but Volendam fishmongers and farmers, but we wonder if these were ever actually worn? You can't get more Dutch than skaters passing windmills in the snow. Fingers crossed we have a winter like this again soon. This has definitely been through some sort of filter but we like it. We love the idea of Albert Einstein as an Albert Heijn worker, complete with carrier bag. But could some bright spark please enlighten us... E=ah2? It wouldn't be a Dutch photo competition without tulips. Or bikes for that matter? And we could not miss out on an Amsterdam canal view either. You can't get more Dutch than a proud lad with football and Netherlands strip. We'd just like to know if this would-be Dutch international actually went on to play for Oranje. Thanks to everyone who sent in their photographs. We really appreciate it. And to celebrate, we've been inspired to launch an Instagram account. And keep those photographs coming to molly@dutchnews.nl  More >


10 surprises Dutch homes have for new arrivals

10 surprises Dutch homes have for new arrivals

Moving to a new country always comes with a handful of new experiences and the Netherlands is no exception. Trying unusual foods, learning some of the language, and getting to grips with cultural nuances all await the newcomer. However, that’s not where the differences end. Even your new home will have a few surprises. Gardens or hallways full of bikes It is no secret that the Netherlands is a bike nation. Just glance outside, and you will be treated to scenes of people on bikes, transporting everything from small dogs to several children. And at the end of the day, those bikes have to go somewhere–and quite often that destination will be the communal garden or downstairs hallway. Hello shower, goodbye bathtub If you are used to relaxing after a long day at the office in a hot bath, perhaps with a good book, you might need to find another relaxation activity. While it isn't impossible to find a bathtub in the Netherlands, they aren't that often found in the average Dutch home. The matching window accessories If you want to fit in when you move to the Netherlands, then forget about first introducing yourself to your neighbours, and instead head straight to your local shops. You are on the hunt for two matching plants, two matching lanterns, or two silver statues of Buddha. Once home, place your newly acquired treasures in your front room window and rest assured that you have begun the process of Dutch integration. The open curtains And while you are at the window, don't worry about closing the curtains. The Dutch are known for keeping their curtains open on their large windows allowing those passing by to have a good look in. Some say this shows the Dutch have nothing to hide, others think they might just be showing off their newest purchases. Killer stairs A perfect introduction to Dutch living comes in the form of the extremely steep stairs that greet you when you open the door. While these near-vertical climbs may have served a purpose in the past when canal houses were taxed on their width–building a tall and skinny house meant fewer taxes and steeper stairs–they might very well have you ascending and descending on all fours. The toilet - part one While Dutch toilets won't have you hovering over a hole in the ground, older style ones do still provide an element of surprise with something lovingly referred to as the inspection shelf. These types of toilets collect what you have just left behind on a small platform or shelf ready for your review. Sometimes the best advice really is 'never look back'. The toilet - part two Dutch toilets aren't only distinctive in their design; they are also usually located in a separate room all on their own. This room is almost always 'cosy' (i.e. tiny) in size, so mind your knees when it comes to sitting down. While you are there have a look around for the calendar that is often hanging on the wall dutifully complete with the birthday dates of family and friends. And last but not least, if there is a sink (you might have noticed it when manoeuvring around it), don't be surprised if it only spouts cold water. Tiny fridge/freezers If you thought the room where the Dutch toilet is located was small, wait until you see the fridge/freezer. If you are used to a full sized side-by-side fridge/freezer, take that image and split it in half vertically. If you are lucky, this is the size you can now expect. If you are a little less lucky, cut that size further in half horizontally. Gas stoves If open flames make you a little nervous, then brace yourself when it comes to the Dutch kitchen. While not all stoves in the Netherlands are gas ones – with that satisfying 'whoosh' when you light the gas – a decent number of them are. Small balconies While having some form of balcony is almost a guarantee in the Netherlands, any dreams you might have of large BBQ parties will need to be put on hold. Dutch balconies, while ample in quantity, tend to be lacking in the space department, giving new meaning to the phrase 'three’s a crowd'. If small appliances, steep stairs, and over revealing toilets have you ready to press the emergency button, don’t worry, there is another option. ServicedApartments.nl offers homes away from home for short and long term rentals. And while we can’t change the country’s housing, we can ensure your stay will be a comfortable one.  More >


Six Dutch tours to keep your parents busy when they visit

Six Dutch tours to keep your parents busy when they visit

Your in-laws have arrived. They are staying for over a week. They've recovered from the jet lag, you've taken them to the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum and checked out the Girl With The Pearl Earring. Now what? Molly Quell has six suggestions for tours for the seasoned traveller. It's autumn, so you can't head out for a tour of the tulip fields. So why not then combine those other Dutch cliches of biking and beer on the Bikes and Bites Tour. The craft beer scene has exploded in Amsterdam lately so there’s plenty to try besides Heineken. Offered by the Amsterdam Craft Beer company, the trip takes you to a brewery and you can try some Dutch snacks along the way. You do need to be a competent city cyclist for this. Food to go Should bites not be sufficient, you can go on a gastronomic tour of Amsterdam. Eating Europe offers a Food and Canal Tour of the Jordaan that serves up a dozen Dutch specialities. (Yes, there are that many tasty things in the Dutch culinary lexicon.) The trip takes in the history of the neighbourhood and food traditions in the Netherlands as well as a boat tour of the canals. Sometimes you want to spend more time on a boat and more time eating. If this sounds like your thing, take the train to Rotterdam and check out De Pannenkoekenboot Tour. It is exactly what the name suggests: a two-and-a-half-hour long tour with views of Rotterdam's harbour and skyline and all the pancakes you can eat. There’s also an ice cream buffet. There’s no food on the Black Heritage Tour, but there is plenty of history. This three- hour canal tour takes you along Amsterdam’s main canals and includes a stop-off at a museum. It covers an often undiscussed aspect of history, that of the slave trade in the Netherlands and its colonies, which touches on everything from the Anne Frank House to the Hermitage museum. Red lights and windmills The Red Light District can be a difficult subject but one with a fascinating history, which you can learn all about on the Amsterdam Red Light District Walking Tour. The one-and-a-half-hour tour takes you on a guided walk through the Red Light District where you visit a peep show and the world’s first condom shop. The tour group also offers a tour with the Fokkens, 74-year-old twin sisters who worked in the Red Light District for 30 years. While the Red Light District is certainly quintessentially Dutch, so are windmills and cheese, which you will see and get on the Countryside, Windmills and Cheese Tour. It’s hard to get more Dutch than touring the polders, dykes and, of course, a working windmill. The tour finishes with a picnic, including a local cheese tasting. It's a six-hour tour in a minibus, so not cheap, but it will keep the rellies away from mass-market excursions. If you've got more time or live near Limburg, why not go underground in Maastricht? The Guided Tour of the North Caves will take you into the heart of the Sint-Pietersberg hill to explore the marlstone mines - a labyrinth of over 20,000 tunnels dating back centuries. For a few more euros you can explore the St Pieter Fort as well and learn a lot about sneaky defences and cannons as well.  More >


A documentary is somebody’s truth: IDFA founder Ally Derks takes stock

A documentary is somebody’s truth: IDFA founder Ally Derks takes stock

With the 29th edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam about to kick off, Paris Carr talks to founder Ally Derks. Striking a pose against her office window, where she enjoys sitting to sneak a cigarette and just watch the world go by, Ally Derks (1958) – founder of the world’s largest and most influential documentary festival; International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), is having her photograph taken. One of the most important figures in the Dutch film industry, her office is humbly decorated compared to the ornate Frederiksplein it looks out upon, just metres away from Amsterdam’s prestigious canals. The combination of grandeur and modesty is not only evident within IDFA’s physical headquarters, but the festival’s ethos and founder herself. Labeled by Indie Wire as the ‘high priestess of documentary,’ Derks built IDFA from 2,000 tickets sales in its first 1988 edition, to an expected 250,000 in its 29th year due to kick off later this month. Institution Far more than only a festival, IDFA has become an institution for international documentary and a central pillar of arts and culture within the Netherlands. Its products range from IDFAcademy, DocLab (exploring the boundaries of what documentary is) to Docs For Sale – a market forum facilitating selling and co-financing opportunities between commissioning editors and fresh talent. Whilst activities get more advanced every year, there is a constant trademark of every IDFA edition: the determination that it’s just as important to have the illuminati of the international film world pound the streets of the Dutch capital for 12 days, as it is upcoming filmmakers from all backgrounds, particularly non western countries. 'We want to be truly international… I have never been interested in putting on a festival for the happy fielders, the privileged few, especially from this country. No way, we are all humans on this planet,' says Derks. Having announced her planned departure from IDFA on its 30th birthday next year, the 58 year-old self-confessed ‘dinosaur of documentary’ is certainly in her natural habitat behind a camera. Being in front of the lens however, appears a more uncomfortable experience. Selfies 'I really hate having my picture taken,'she says before she smiles genuinely into the camera. 'And the whole ‘selfie’ thing blows my mind. I’ve taken a couple [of selfies] for my husband, but why anyone would enjoy taking them all the time I don’t know.' Given her apparent unease at being a muse, Derks' relaxed and cooperative response to fulfill a photography request from an unknown interviewer is surprising and generous. With a budget of more than €5m, surely IDFA 2016’s camera shy director could have saved herself this ordeal by palming me off with a stock press photograph? 'Well yes, I do have my press photo taken every year but to be honest by the time they’ve finished with it, I can hardly recognise myself,' she says. 'When you’re operating in the realm of documentary and talking about reality, I think it’s important to be real yourself, exclaims Ally after the final shot is taken.' Challenging elitism It’s this down to earth directness, openness to being vulnerable and attempt to challenge the perpetuation of elitism in whatever small way possible, that epitomises not only Derks and ‘her’ IDFA, but arguably the egalitarian roots of Dutch society itself. The combination means IDFA’s Netherlands born founder is willing to discuss anything from why the Dutch are lacking in fiction film, to her shameless appetite for ‘takeaway TV’ such as MasterChef Australia and Expeditie Robinson. So why are the Dutch so closely associated with documentary? 'It’s part of our genes,' she says.  'The documentary genre belongs to our Dutch culture. We don’t have great fiction filmmakers, really we don’t have them, maybe one or two but it’s nothing compared to our documentary makers like Heddy Honigmann, Ester Gould, Joris Ivens, Herman van der Horst and Hans Keller. The reason IDFA shows a lot of Dutch documentaries is because they’re there. At International Film Festival Rotterdam, they don’t show Dutch films because they are not there. Not good fiction anyway.' So how does she define documentary? 'We discuss the directions and trends in documentary every year and that’s why a festival is important as it enables the definition to be put under scrutiny and evolve,' says Derks. "‘It’s so heavily scripted, it’s only 30 seconds long and was filmed on a mobile phone, it’s only made for a computer", are these all still documentaries?’ Creative reality 'You don’t have space to talk about these issues or question documentary on TV or in the cinema, but you do at a festival. After discussing it for more than 30 years, I maintain it’s a creative way of looking at reality, that doesn’t mean it’s the truth, but it’s somebody’s truth.' As a political tool, documentary is a great place to start discussion and debate, she says. 'Anything is better than starting a war... The genre is not only about form it’s about content. There has always been a need for documentary but it hasn’t always been there. When I started in 1988, documentary was almost non- existent in the mainstream: there were practically none on television and you could forget about seeing one in the cinema. 'Something happened in the early 90s however, and suddenly everything changed. Almost out of no-where appeared thematically constructed channels like National Geographic, National History and CNN - and they all needed content. Documentary is a great way of getting cheap content.' 'When I started IDFA, many people had absolutely no clue what a documentary was – they couldn’t even spell the word. Our first few audiences were elitist to be honest, but I never wanted to make a festival for only the intellectuals that worked in television in Hilversum. James Bond 'After teaming up with Hans Beerekamp (journalist at NRC Handelsblad) to get IDFA off the ground, I wrote to Amsterdam city council and the foreign affairs ministry in the Hague saying look we want to do this but not in art film houses, as then we’d only be catering for a certain type. I wanted the documentaries to be shown in commercial venues alongside blockbusters like James Bond, and they were. 'We don’t like criticism of course but we’re open to it and try our best to take it on board,' says Derks, who is acutely aware of the struggle not to be elitist. 'I remember when Central Park (1991) by Frederick Wiseman came out, we were like ok we have to invite all the people who work in the local Amsterdam parks to see this film because it’s completely unique, I mean it’s a beautifully special film. 'But then I realised they don’t speak English. And then I thought shit, I don’t want this, I don’t want to be an intellectual festival for only people who understand English. But then if you want to be international how do you afford to subtitle all the films? We’re still battling with the problem that all the films are in English and not in Dutch. OJ Simpson Ally’s penultimate IDFA will be running from the 16th-27th November this year, screening 300 documentaries ranging from a 30 second installation to a nine hour film on the trial of OJ Simpson. Rather than showing signs of slowing down, Derks has a refreshingly rock ‘n roll attitude to the importance of always pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. 'Of course staying would have been more safe and steady, but when the opportunity came up [Ally has been invited to join the prestigious German Robert Bosch Foundation] my mind started racing in terms of all the things I could do,' she says. 'And boy do I love a challenge. Plus saying goodbye to IDFA on its 30th birthday to leave for Berlin is a kind of chic exit and way to pass the IDFA baton on to the next generation.' As Derks gets ready to embark upon her German themed adventure, she seems to have sparked some kind of domino effect within the international film world. Since announcing her departure so has Nick Fraser- BBC’s Storyville, Mette Hoffmann Meyer - Danish television and Claire Aguilar - Sheffield Doc/Fest. Whilst humorously suggesting they could start a whole new team together, Ally also has these words of wisdom for the next generation of filmmakers all around the world: 'Know where your weak spots are and don’t surround yourself with yes people. That won’t get you anywhere.' IFDA takes place from November 16 to 27 at locations across the city.  More >


Dutch seaside resort hosts new exhibition of Picasso sculptures

Dutch seaside resort hosts new exhibition of Picasso sculptures

Pablo Picasso’s move into the world of ceramics and sculptures is detailed in a new collection of his work on show at the Museum Beelden aan Zee, Scheveningen. By Moira Holden Picasso had reached the height of his fame in the mid 1940s, but he was still striving for innovative ways to progress as an artist. He moved to the south coast of France to begin a new professional phase and the stunning results of it are now on display at the Dutch coastal museum of Sculptures by the Sea. The Malaga-born painter’s foray into the world of sculpture and ceramics began with a chance meeting on the beach with the owners of a pottery factory in the village of Vallauris, near Antibes, on the Mediterranean coast. This friendship with Suzanne Douly and Georges Raine was to prove crucial to a new development in his work. ‘In his life, he was always looking for new directions and new ways of doing things,’ says Lyke Burger, guide at the Museum Beelden aan Zee. ‘Every time there was a great change in his life it was seen in his work.’ Ceramics The pottery factory owners offered Picasso a workshop and it was here that he embarked on the next stage of his life and his career. He was already 65 by this time and lived here with Francoise Gilot – their son, Claude, was born in 1947, and daughter, Paloma, two years later. Picasso was drawn to the pinky-red clay of the region. ‘It became a new inspiration,’ says Burger.  ‘Ceramics interested him and he was attracted by the great simplicity of the clay.’ He had complained about the transience of paint, so the durability of ceramics appealed to him. At first, he chose the conventional shape of a vase as a starting point and imposed ‘flat’ images around the vase. He was a fan of bull-fighting, so many of his designs included bulls, picadors and bull fighters. Several of the artworks on show today at the museum are a homage to his enthusiasm for the pastime. Other themes include women, animals and birds. When he was at work, a small, injured owl flew into his workshop; the little bird was nursed back to health by Picasso, became a pet and featured heavily in his work. Waste and sculpture Today’s display has been gathered from both private and museum collections in Europe. Many art experts feel Picasso’s legacy of sculptures and ceramics have been overlooked in comparison to his paintings. ‘Picasso was one of the first people to think of gathering objects and to use unusual materials and waste in his artwork,’ says Burger. The most striking sculpture in the museum is La Chevre (The Goat) and is evidence of his newfound idea of utilising objets trouves. The 1950 sculpture is based on Esmeralda, a goat owned by Picasso. He uses bronze and many other inventive materials to create the astonishing likeness of the creature. The udders are made from milk cans, the structure of the back includes a palm leaf and a wicker basket is also used in the construction. He was not afraid to replace the traditional sculpting materials of stone and wood with tin, iron and found objects. Picasso’s new artistic venture spilled over into his private life when he met Jacqueline Roque at the pottery - Francoise soon left with the children. Picasso married the woman who was 40 years younger than him and she stayed with him until his death in 1973 at the age of 91. The Netherlands Many of the exhibits in the museum are being shown in the Netherlands for the first time. Picasso was no stranger to the region and had previously stayed in North Holland in June and July of 1905. His friendship with the Dutch racing driver and journalist Tom Schilperoort brought Picasso to Schoorl. He used this base to visit the towns of Alkmaar and Hoorn and observed the cheese markets, the windmills, the farmhouses and the people living in the villages. One of his most famous paintings, Les Trois Hollandaises, was produced during this time. He also used the time to hone sketches of his work carried out earlier in Paris. Last week saw the 125th anniversary of the great painter’s birth. The huge interest in his work displayed at Scheveningen is a testament to his continuing appeal today. Picasso by the Sea: ceramics and sculptures, Museum Beelden aan Zee, until 5 March 2017. www.beeldenaanzee.nl  More >