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


The best of the Netherlands in the summer: our list of lists

The best of the Netherlands in the summer: our list of lists

Amusement parks, beaches, islands, pretty villages... Here's a list of our lists of the best things to do in the Netherlands in the summer. One of the great thing about the Dutch coast is the sunsets, with the sun sinking into the sea. And they are not bad for swimming or sunbathing either. Here's a list of the best Dutch beaches, from Lloret de Holland to Timboektoe. Fancy some sightseeing but want to avoid the massed hoards of tourists? The Netherlands has some charming places which are off the beaten track. Here's some of our favourite villages. Want to go island hoping but no money for Greece? We've got it covered. Here's a list of some of the best Dutch islands where you can get away from it all. From pony rides to a roller coaster, the Netherlands is packed with amusement parks to keep the kids busy. Here's our selection of 10 of the best theme parks. If something more off the wall is your style, why not visit some of the Netherlands' weirdest places?  Mummies, witches, caves and pickled animals - there is a lot of strangeness in the Netherlands. If you are feeling active, why not take a cycle tour. Mike Cooper went on a bike-packing trip early this spring, but it will be much more pleasant in the summer. And if it is history you are after, we've got a list of some of the best Dutch castles to visit too. And if you feel that you have to give your relatives or other visitors to some truly Dutch experiences, here's a selection of tourist tours with a difference.  More >


Small Wonders at the Rijksmuseum: a treasure trove for the soul

Small Wonders at the Rijksmuseum: a treasure trove for the soul

This summer the Rijksmuseum is featuring an extraordinary exhibition of Dutch micro-carvings from the late Middle Ages. Christine Medycky has been finding out about 'Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures,'  - a testament to human creativity and ingenuity. The exhibition which brings together for the first time from private collections and museums around the world, is made up of more than 60 rare miniature boxwood devotional objects from the 16th century. These include rosaries, prayer beads, altarpieces, engraved plaques, prayer pods and even some memento mori in the form of skulls and coffins. In an unprecedented collaboration, curators and conservationists from the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), joined forces to investigate the long-standing mystery of how these tiny masterpieces were made and by whom. What their five years of research uncovered is fascinating. Private devotion The production of small devotional instruments in Europe coincided with the rise of private devotion between 1475 and 1525. Boxwood was considered the ideal medium for carving such intricate miniatures. Common to Europe, this hard and dense wood has a uniform and fine grain that polishes well. Moreover, boxwood was considered to be a sacred wood, symbolic of humility and salvation. The most important private devotional aid was the rosary. While the Cult of the Virgin originated in the 5th century, it was not until the 15th century that the Rosary was standardised to ‘an alternating repetition of one Our Father and ten Ave Marias, each related to a Christian mystery’. The Dominican Order popularised the devotional practice by establishing confraternities that were not only accessible to men and women, but also to all levels of society. Soon the Rosary proliferated throughout Europe. Small Wonders features a number of rosaries and prayer beads, including the magnificent Chatsworth Decade Rosary that belonged to King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The beads are small – the size of a hazelnut, walnut or small fruit and fit easily into one’s palm. Rosaries of course, were carried in the hand or suspended from a belt for easy reach. Power of the Rosary The power of the Rosary can be attributed to the fact that it is the only devotional aid that appeals to both the sense of touch and sight. According to the Senior Curator of Sculpture at the Rijksmuseum, Frits Scholten, reciting the rosary was 'a complex sensorial affair that comprised a tactile element...but also an imaginative and mnemonic one'. The constant handling of the beads liberated the mind, while gazing at images facilitated meditation. The great theologian St. Augustine considered sight to be the most important of the senses. ‘To see’ he stated, is ‘to know’ and to know is ‘to understand’. These carvings themselves are so microscopic in scale that it is impossible for the naked eye to make out all of their intricacies. In order to examine the boxwood miniatures more closely, curators and conservators turned to cutting-edge technology for help. High-resolution Micro CT scanning, 3D animations and photography revealed the most-minute details of these tiny treasures. In the Mass of St. Gregory narrative of the Chatsworth paternoster beads, for example, the research team discovered a man and a woman hidden behind a column in the gallery of the Church observing the Eucharist below. The Royal Arms of England and initials carved on the exterior of the prayer-nut suggest that the couple in question was in fact King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Details The most vivid and moving details are found in the Passion of Christ narratives. When the viewer sees the subtleties up close - the agony of Jesus carrying the cross, the brutality of the Roman soldiers and the mockery of the crowds - it is extremely moving. It is as if we enter into the story and experience it ‘here and now’. Indeed, at the Small Wonders exhibition viewers can immerse themselves into and explore the micro-spectacle, with the help of virtual reality. Advanced technology has also assisted the research team to uncover the secret of how these micro-carvings were made. Paternoster beads open up into two halves like a prayer book, each half telling a story. Construction Through virtual deconstruction researchers discovered that the interior of the prayer beads was carved from a single disc of boxwood in low relief or from a number of discs layered on top of each other in order to produce the effect of depth; these discs were then secured by tiny wooden pins or other means. Such complexity in design and construction attest to an unparalleled technical virtuosity. Indeed, gothic boxwood miniatures were extremely valuable and considered luxury items – ‘Rolexes’ of the day, prized possessions of royalty and noblemen. In addition to Henry VIII, Louis XI, Emperor Charles V and Archduchess of Austria either commissioned or owned boxwood devotional objects. Who made these masterpieces? The only clue found to date is a Latin inscription on the exterior of one prayer bead that reads: 'Adam Theordici (Dirksz) made me'. Whether Adam is its creator or patron is unclear. Scholars believe that Adam, if indeed he was the responsible craftsman, was not a sole actor, but a member of a guild specialising in boxwood carving. Research indicates his studio was not in the Southern Netherlands, as was long assumed, but must have been in the north, possibly in Delft. Whoever made these tiny miracles it is clear that the craftsman-artist had an excellent grasp of geometry, hyper-concentration, very good eyesight, steady hands, and unwavering patience. Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures will run in the Philips Wing of the Rijksmuseum until September 17, 2017.   More >


Fifty years on, Dutch fashion duo Puck & Hans are at Amsterdam Museum

Fifty years on, Dutch fashion duo Puck & Hans are at Amsterdam Museum

It is half a century since Dutch fashion duo Puck Kroon and Hans Kemmink opened their first clothing store in The Hague. Together with the Amsterdam Museum, they have curated a rich retrospective on these flamboyant years: ‘Puck &Hans – Local Couture’. Deborah Nicholls-Lee toured the new exhibition with the famous designers to find out more. On Amsterdam’s busy Rokin, flanked by a mobile phone outlet on one side, and a cosmetics chain on the other, is yet another cheese shop. But the listed building at Rokin 66 was not always a tourist trap. From1986 to 1998, it housed one of the most iconic women’s fashion boutiques in the country. The elaborate, outlandish window-dressing – created by Hans himself – the avant-garde designs, and the promise of a glass of wine and a good chat inside, attracted style-seekers from far and wide and gave the shop its reputation as a ‘happening’ and not just a place to buy clothes. ‘Puck & Hans was really something,’ says Annemarie den Dekker, the Amsterdam Museum’s head curator. ‘It was where you went to feel special…It was something really new,…the place to be.’ Still stylish This was to be married couple - and design partners - Puck and Hans’ last and most celebrated store. In 1998, feeling that the fashion world was losing its sense of fun, the pair shut up shop and devoted time to other pursuits: Puck to the study of History of Art, and Hans to photography. Yet today, almost 20 years later, and now in their seventies, they are still unshakably chic. At the press opening for their exhibition, just a two-minute walk from where the Rokin shop stood, both stand tall in modish leather platforms. Hans’ leopard-print shirt is tempered by a well-cut dark suit and Puck is mostly monochrome in white jeans, black asymmetric blazer, voluminous printed scarf, and trademark tortoise-shell spectacle frames with matching over-sized earrings. But they have none of the airs of many modern-day designers. They quickly mix in with the visitors, shaking hands and squeezing in among them to chat. A Hands-On Approach This unassuming, hands-on approach to life was also much in evidence in the planning of the exhibition. It was Hans who put out the call on Facebook for the one thousand plus items needed for the retrospective. The project saw him and Puck criss-crossing the country, knocking on doors, collecting pieces from die-hard Puck & Hans fans who were delighted to meet their idols in person. They also teamed up with Voordekunst, to crowd-fund over €20,000. A mark of the quality of the brand is the survival of so many pieces, some of which were still being worn by their donators. Unsurprisingly, after decades of wear, some items had degraded a little and many of the minor repairs – a new button here, a small tear there - were undertaken by the nimble fingers of Puck herself. One unexpected complication was the historical setting of the exhibition as there were many restrictions in place to protect the precious artefacts and furniture. ‘We found it really hard to work in a museum,’ explains Hans, who had enjoyed much greater creative freedom with the displays in his shops. ‘We had to adapt to the museum’s rules’. Ever inventive, Puck turned adversity into art. The 17th century table which they wanted for their exuberant Last Supper display, is now protected by a splendid tablecloth, the fruits of months of Puck’s labour at the sewing machine. The immaculately stitched covering is, explains Puck, a pastiche of King’s Day finds, thank you letters from clients, and name badges in gold thread – a homage to all those who worked on the project and partnered Puck & Hans over the years. Nostalgia Under the guidance of curator and designer Maarten Spruyt, Puck and Hans faced another challenge: choosing what to showcase from the 1,700 items owned by the museum or loaned to the exhibition. This was a ‘nostalgic feast’ for Puck and Hans, says Spruyt, and it was difficult for them to remain objective when reunited with ‘all these designs that they had not seen for years’. Organised thematically rather than chronologically, the displays advocate an enjoyment of the outfits for their beauty and craftsmanship, independent of any historical context. For visitors wanting more background, the accompanying audio tour, narrated by Puck and Hans, paints a fuller picture of the era. We learn, for example, about their flower-painted Morris Minor, which attracted the attention of the police; their collaboration with stylist Frans Ankoné – who also worked on this exhibition; and the ‘immense joy’ ( Puck) of their colourful catwalk show at Amsterdam’s zoo, complete with Caribbean band, palm trees, and dancing. Escapism In Puck & Hans clothing, you could be anyone. The black and white ‘Business’ collection, with its newsprint patterns, severe shoulder-padding, and asymmetric pleats, implies power and non-conformity; while the black lace, leather and heels of the headless mannequins in the ‘Sexy Black’ gallery, suggest an anonymous, after-hours eroticism. There is exaggerated romanticism in the ruffles, billowing sleeves, and appliqué flowers of the ‘Water Lilies’ collection, and exoticism in the sequins and frills of the kaleidoscopic ‘Birds of Paradise’. The adventurous ‘Africa’, ‘Oriental’ and ‘India’ sections, with their rich spice colours, were inspired by the couple’s travels, which introduced them to new fabrics, techniques and ideas. Hans shows us the mannequin suspended from the ceiling in the yogic flying position, enjoying Spruyt’s fun interpretation of the theme. Humorous touches pervade the ambitious exhibition, from the pointed bras and corsetry, tossed mischievously amongst museum relics in the display cabinets, to Puck and Hans’ presence – in mannequin form - at the grand table for a symbolic ‘Last Supper’, where they feast on 50 years of memories. Beneath Puck’s hands with their painted red nails, letters in gold fabric spell out an aptly chosen quote from Nelson Mandela:‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ Puck & Hans – Local Couture can be seen at the Amsterdam Museum to September 3. A documentary about the exhibition by Peter Wingender at Smarthouse films is due for release later this year.  More >


8 people who are bringing Syrian culture to the Netherlands

8 people who are bringing Syrian culture to the Netherlands

From Dabke dancing to Muwashshah music, the Netherlands has a lot to learn about  Syrians and vice versa. Deborah Nicholls-Lee meets eight people who are building bridges between the two communities and celebrating the very best of Syrian culture here. Samer al-Kadri Located in some of Amsterdam’s most expensive real estate on the Herengracht canal, is a place where almost everything is free. Pages Bookstore Café is not a business, says Syrian founder Samer al-Kadri: ‘It’s just a message in my mind that I want to say to the world.’ On June 12, the artist and publisher opens a centre that brings literature, art, music and theatre from the Arabic world and from Europe to a diverse audience to create a place that feels like home to everybody. Pages Amsterdam is Samer’s second bookstore. Pages Istanbul opened in 2015, partly supported by the Prins Claus Fonds, whose motto is ‘Culture is a basic need'. Samer (42) already has plans for a third branch in Berlin. ‘My mission is to open one everywhere – even in the Himalayas!’ he says, and it’s not clear if he is joking. While Pages will be, he believes, the only Arabic bookstore in the Netherlands, he is keen to emphasise that it is a multi-cultural space for everybody, with books and entertainment in a variety of languages. ‘This place is not just for Syrians,’ he explains. ‘It is a way for Syrians to introduce themselves…We bring people together from different nationalities.’ This coming together is central to the bookstore’s aim to unite Syrian newcomers with their new neighbours. ‘The new arrival doesn’t know anything about the Netherlands and the Netherlands people don’t know anything about us. And this is very important, to know each other.’ He sees culture as facilitating this: ‘Let’s know each other before we judge each other. And when you do this through fun and art and happiness, it will be better.’ Ahmad Naffory and Claudia Willmitzer ‘People are amazed to listen to something new,’ says Claudia Willmitzer, a German, who together with her Syrian partner, Ahmad Naffory, form the band Coconaff, which is bringing Syrian rhythms to fresh ears in the Netherlands. They met at a gig in Lebanon and decided to share Ahmad’s long and difficult journey for asylum together, moving from country to country until they found sanctuary in the Netherlands. It was Ahmad who bought Claudia her first Oud, an Arabic lute, which she says is ‘an honour to play.’ They have just released their first album, Cleopatra & the crazy bird. They describe it as a ‘love story’ and an example that something positive and beautiful can emerge from an ordeal. Ahmad describes the band, which fuses Arabic melodies with flamenco rhythms, as ‘an international mixed band, playing traditional oriental music in a new way.’ He enjoys sharing Arabic music with Europeans and was happy to see the way his British percussionist, Simon Coleman, learnt to play the unfamiliar maqams and rhythms which you rarely hear in European music. The band sees itself as having an important role to play in bringing Syrians and Europeans closer together and, says Ahmad, aims to ‘break stereotypes and express the right of equality and freedom for everyone.’ Live music, Ahmad explains, is heard in every restaurant back in Syria and is something that newcomers here miss. Esseline van de Sande Dutch-born Esseline van de Sande, social psychologist, author, and Middle East advisor, first discovered Syrian culture when she worked for the United Nations in Damascus. But it was a trip with a friend down the Euphrates in a two-person kayak, and their arrival in the ancient Dura Europos (fort of Europe) where she was most struck by its importance and beauty. The monument’s name, she says, ‘is a message in itself’ as Europe is intrinsically connected and indebted to this region through the alphabet, astronomy and mathematics that ancient Mesopotamia brought us. ‘By living there, working there, and delivering my first child in Damascus, I got really into the culture and I realised how little we know about this region.’ Most of all, she was struck by the ‘abundance of generosity’ of the people she met. When war broke out, and many Syrians made the Netherlands their home, she realised that ‘people have no idea who will be their new neighbours.’ Her 2016 book, Ontmoetingen met Syriërs (Meeting with Syrians), was a way to address this and allow Syrians such as composer and music teacher Amer Shanati to tell their story, focusing on their career background. By pairing interviewers and interviewees that came from similar professions, the book inadvertently became an intervention in itself, linking the two communities and providing a useful network for the new arrival. Esseline is also one of the founders of the Great Middle East Platform, which aims to provide information about the Middle East that people can relate to and give a fuller picture than the one presented in the media. Under the umbrella of the Room of Listening, she and her colleague Shervin Nekuee organise events, such as networking dinners and a pop-up bazaar with music and poetry from the Middle East. Jurriaan Momberg ‘It’s quite a party to cook together,’ says Jurriaan Momberg, founder of Syrian Chefs, a team of caterers who are bringing the flavours of the Levant to the Dutch table. For 18 years, Jurriaan managed the Ekeko and Soeterijn restaurants at the Tropenmuseum, until, he says, funding cuts forced their closure. In 2015, he saw a Facebook post on Vluchtelingen Amsterdam, asking for a volunteer to help a Syrian cook with transportation. After this, Jurriaan met other cooks who were also at the Havenstraat asylum centre, and his help with logistics, training and networking, evolved into Syrian Chefs, a ‘foundation for every Syrian who wants to cook.’ Sharing food, explains Jurriaan, is central to Syrian culture and is a way of connecting with each other. ‘Wherever you go, there’s a table with food and it’s always cosy,’ he says. ‘How nice is it to be proud of something that comes from your country but makes people happy here in the Netherlands?’ Syrian Chefs are currently investigating plans for their own restaurant in Amsterdam. They will be at the celebrated Food on the Edge symposium in Galway, Ireland in October. Adnan Alaoda ‘Because of the circumstances in Syria, a lot of Syrians went out to many countries around the world, so it is very important in this time to keep our culture alive,’ explains Adnan Alaoda, a Syrian poet, songwriter, journalist, and award-winning theatre and TV scriptwriter, who moved to the Netherlands in January. He is currently based at the Verhalenhuis Belvédère in Rotterdam, a cultural centre which aims to bring diverse cultures together and, in association with Icorn (International Cities of Refuge Network), offers shelter to refugee writers. Here he has established Al Rewaq, a concept he founded in 2015 in Dubai, which hosts monthly evenings of Syrian and Dutch entertainment, such as poetry, plays, films, and singing. ‘I know that Syrian culture might be new for people in the Netherlands’, he says, ‘but it is very interesting also to see the beauty in it.’ With Al Rewaq, Adnan hopes to raise the spirits of Syrian newcomers. ‘The important idea is to bring Syrians together again, to inspire them, to make them believe that they can do a lot of important things here as Syrians, and this will lead them to be more integrated with the Dutch community.’ Adnan believes that we have much to learn from each other. ‘It is very important to take advantage of other cultural experiences and to be able to live with other cultures and affect them in a positive way.’ ‘Earth is a place for all,’ he says. Iris Loos and Tamer Allaloush ‘It’s like you have a best friend that lets you into all aspects of a different world to help you understand,’ says Iris Loos about Syrian national Tamer Allaloush, who she met when they both volunteered at a refugee clothing bank in Utrecht. In 2016, they founded Dreaming of Syria ‘to empower the Syrian community by giving them a stage and also celebrate diversity in the city of Utrecht.’ ‘Dreaming of Syria aims to show you another side of Syria,’ explains Iris. ‘And to connect different people by sharing music, history, stories, poetry, food and dance.’ For Tamer, it is important to show how life was before the war: ‘our hospitality, our traditional life’ and the ‘beautiful and lovely country we had.’ ‘It is important to keep those memories alive,’ agrees Iris. Upcoming projects include extending the Dabke dance nights to other Dutch cities, an Arabic market in Utrecht, and a Dabke flashmob in Utrecht town centre on June 15 to launch the Global Week for Syria. ‘Dabke is just an aspect of Syrian culture,’ says Iris. ‘But it gets Syrians and Dutch [people] dancing together. That’s what we love to see happening.’  More >


Solution or utopia? Can design really improve the lot of the refugee?

Solution or utopia? Can design really improve the lot of the refugee?

Can design really improve the experience of the 65,000 displaced people worldwide who have fled their country in search of safety? Deborah Nicholls-Lee visits the Stedelijk Museum’s newest exhibition, Solution or Utopia? Design for Refugees. In stark contrast to the magnificent oil paintings that hang in the adjacent gallery, a sheet, a tent and a urinal are among the prosaic artefacts that populate the Solution or Utopia? exhibition. Here the emphasis is on necessity and survival - and the beauty is all in the design. Yet a closer look reveals that the items are less mundane than they seem: The sheet is biodegradable, the tent can be worn as a raincoat, and the urinal uses biofuel cells to convert urine into energy to light up the toilet block, making it safer to use at night. ‘Design and architecture…is not only about nice chairs,’ explains Ingeborg de Roode, curator of industrial design at the museum. It is hoped, she says, that the exhibition will show visitors the potential of using design for social purposes and will inspire other designers to consider this type of project. Many of the exhibits on show were entrants in the 2016 Refugee Challenge, a competition organised in partnership with UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency)  and the IKEA Foundation. The challenge, which attracted 631 submissions from 70 different countries, was launched at the annual What Design Can Do conference in Amsterdam, and set designers the task of improving the reception and integration of refugees. Migrant designers Andrea Venkeman, head of UNHCR Netherlands, really believes that ‘designs can help’ in times of crisis such as this, but emphasises that ‘making sure that refugees participate is key to any solution’.  This exhibition has certainly taken that on board. Syrian architects Mary Farwy and Michael Barchini were members of the team of curators, and many of the designers featured are refugees themselves. One of these is Syrian artist Yara Said. She designed the orange and black flag paraded by the refugee team at the 2016 Olympics. It was inspired by the life jackets worn by migrants and abandoned in their hundreds on Greek beaches. ‘One year and a half ago, I was on the road, fighting for my life. And five years ago [in Syria], I fought for my life every single day.’ The flag, she explains, was a response to the trauma she relived when faced with media images of the migrant crisis and the need for a new language to talk about it. ‘People were sharing so many pictures of dead children and women on the road. ..It breaks my heart every time I see these pictures…and for me it’s just traumatising every time. I was very upset about this and I thought we needed a visual sign. If you want to talk about refugees you don’t have to use a picture of a dead child, you can use a symbol.’ The language of migration Finding the right language was also a key challenge for the curators, who debated various alternatives for the word ‘refugee’, which some feel has become stigmatised in the media. The ‘Refugees Welcome’ stickers were particularly divisive, says curator, Ingeborg de Roode. ‘Is it a good idea to address refugees as a separate group when they are already trying to integrate into society? We don’t know. We don’t give the answer, but I think it’s an interesting item to discuss.’ This sensitivity to language is perhaps best seen in one of the exhibition’s many digital exhibits, the Common Sans font. When you type the word ‘refugee’, it automatically changes it to ‘human’. Refugee status, it suggests, is temporary, but we are all human. Several exhibits also address the challenge of communicating in a foreign country; there are picture dictionaries, audio flashcards and even refugee-specific emojis. Thought-provoking design Perhaps the boldest solution proposed in the exhibition is ‘Europe in Africa’, a city state created on an artificial island between Italy and Tunisia. Plans include a university, a business park, an agricultural zone, and even a football stadium. Ambitious and risky, but certainly inventive and interesting. In a time of crisis, with migrants spending an average of 17 years (UNHCR) in transition, the need for innovation is paramount. Solution or Utopia? is a celebration of the power of art and design to find practical solutions to widespread misery and provides an important insight into the migrant condition. ‘As you go through this exhibition’, urges Yara Said, ‘Don’t think about the beauty of it; think about the humans behind it, because it’s real people who want to use these designs, and you can really save a life.’ Solution or Utopia? runs from May 20 to September 3 2017. An additional part of the exhibition can be seen at Lola Lik, an asylum centre and community space in south-east Amsterdam.  More >


Amsterdam’s first bicycle mayor discusses her first year in office

Amsterdam’s first bicycle mayor discusses her first year in office

In June 2016, Anna Luten, the world’s first bicycle mayor, was elected in the Netherlands to act as an ambassador for cycling in Amsterdam and help other cities develop a cycle culture. Deborah Nicholls-Lee met Anna to discuss the highs and lows of her first year in office. There was a time when Anna Luten (29), a former brand manager in the bicycle industry and Amsterdam’s first bicycle mayor, thought she might never bike again. Seven years ago, hurtling through Noordwijk at 35kph in a road race, Anna collided with a pedestrian. ‘In the end, I was really lucky,’ she says. ‘It was only my face…and when you’re young, you recover quite quickly.’ This is typical of the positive outlook of this upbeat young woman, who lost several teeth, split her tongue and needed a total of 27 stitches. Just eight months later, she completed the gruelling Amstel Gold Race ‘to make sure to overcome my fear.’ A global mission In fact, falling out of love with biking equipped Anna perfectly for her first year as bicycle mayor, where she had to demonstrate the benefits of cycling to reluctant users all over the world who, unlike the Dutch, do not come from a biking culture. ‘Now I just understand better why there can be a barrier for people to ride a bike,’ she says. Cyclespace, the NGO which initiated the bicycle mayor scheme, has an ambitious goal: that by 2030, 50% of all trips are made by bike, in every city in the world. The aim is to export Dutch expertise and inspire other countries to embrace this form of transport. Currently based in New York, where she is helping the city develop its biking infrastructure, Anna admits to being ‘flabbergasted’ by the way things are organised there. ‘Some things are brand new’ – she loves the daily cyclists’ weather forecast – ‘And some things are really old-fashioned.’ Indeed, her hardest task has been establishing a programme in cities with very diverse cultural backgrounds. ‘Every city has a different system. It’s difficult to compare one city with the other,’ she explains. Meeting international people with a different outlook has also reminded Anna of how special our cycling culture is here. Foreigners describe the flow of cyclists as ‘something beautiful to see,’ she says, ‘like swans cycling through the city.’ ‘It opened my eyes talking to them, and now I’m surprised that more people can’t see this.’ Accomplishments The anniversary of Anna’s first year as bicycle mayor coincides with two key cycling symposia. Velo-City , the largest cycling conference in the world, will be held in Arnhem and Nijmegen from June 13-16, and is preceded by the Bicycle Mayor Summit,  which takes place on June 10-11 in Amsterdam. Anna considers the summit to be one of the highlights of her tenure. On this weekend, Anna and the newly-elected bicycle mayors from Australia, Brazil, India and Mexico will come together for the first time. ‘Getting more bicycle mayors than just me was one of the biggest goals of the programme…and to create a global community of bicycle mayors to have a network where you can share knowledge.’ The inclusivenes of the programme is also an important achievement. Four of the six mayors are women, and most have children. Anna is keen to broaden the demographic, engaging mayors of all backgrounds and ethnicities. The message is clear: ‘Riding a bike is something that everyone can do. And it’s something that everyone should try at least, because it’s fun and it’s easy and it gives you this sense of freedom.’ Anna is also proud of the hackathons (an intensive exchange of ideas for solving specific problems) which she has organised. These have included plans to investigate a ‘flexible road’ which alters its bike lane and car traffic capacity according to the time of day. Surprises I press Anna on the challenges of her first year on the job and it proves hard to get an answer from someone who does the (currently unpaid) job with such cheerfulness and good will. ‘I’m always thinking of the positive things,’ she explains, and there is silence for a while as she reflects. Finally, she acknowledges that the first few weeks in post were a shock to her. ‘It went like a rollercoaster. The press was going after me. And I was like, ‘What’s happening?’ I really had to find my own way.’ The project was started from scratch and the learning curve for all involved was steep. ‘Suddenly, I was the bicycle mayor and people found me by different channels and they were coming to me with a lot of different questions…I advised them in the best way I could or I put them in contact with others. In this last year, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge.’ Anna was also surprised to see how many organisations had similar goals but were working in isolation. She saw that the mayor had a role in bringing these groups together. ‘I just thought, if you guys are doing this and the others are doing that, why aren’t you just cooperating with each other? Because that would be more efficient and probably more innovative.’ A foundation for the future Mediator, spokesperson, innovator - Anna’s role has been vast. The blonde girl on a bike has become an appealing icon of the charm and freedom of our successful cycling culture here, which other countries are keen to import. But Anna is preparing to dismount, and another mayor will soon take her place. She has laid a strong foundation for her successor. ‘I set the plan and it’s built now,’ she says with pride. If you think you have what it takes to be the next mayor, Cyclespace will begin interviewing in the autumn.  More >


The ‘I am not a Tourist’ fair and International Festival are back in Eindhoven

The ‘I am not a Tourist’ fair and International Festival are back in Eindhoven

Learning Dutch, finding a house, experiencing Dutch culture, making connections, solving immigration and tax issues…everything is an option at the ‘I am not a tourist’ expat fair which is taking place in Eindhoven for the second time on June 11. The ‘I am not a tourist’ fair is the biggest expat-orientated event in the Netherlands, which until last year had only been held in Amsterdam.  The Eindhoven event has been organised together with the Holland Expat Center South in recognition of the growing importance of the region as an international centre. The ‘I am not a tourist’ fair in Eindhoven is a prime opportunity for internationals in Eindhoven and beyond to get the lowdown on life in the ‘lowlands’. The event brings together 50 exhibitors and more than 1,500 internationals in an historic setting: the former VDMA garage on the Vestdijk, a stunning industrial building in the heart of the city. Seminars Newcomers will be able to find out more about housing in the Netherlands, attend talks on the employment market, banking, education and the tax system. There will also be a programme of performances and workshops throughout the day. But there is lots on offer for old hands as well. International festival Outside the main fair location you can also drop into the the annual International Festival. Dozens of stalls selling food, drinks, hand-made products, art, paintings and jewellery - will also be open for business. The market will be combined with live music from international and local artists and, of course, entertainment for children. Inside the Hub Eindhoven for Expats, you can enjoy conferences and workshops, and there will be a bar on the outside deck. Sport and Leisure New this year is the Sport & Leisure Experience, organised together with EindhovenSport and the Holland Expat Center South. After all, there is more to sport in Eindhoven than top notch football and hockey! You can take part in more than 70 different sports in the Eindhoven region and many of the clubs will be on hand to help you pick the ideal sport for you. The south of the Netherlands also has some great cultural gems - think museums and theatre - great activities for children and places to get away from it all and relax as well. You can find out more on June 11. Shake up your world and broaden your horizon by discovering what's going on in the rest of the expat community. Come to Eindhoven on June 11 for the ‘I am not a Tourist’ expat fair and celebrate an international city. Order your free tickets for the ‘I am not a tourist’ Expat Fair at the International Boulevard, Eindhoven here.  More >


12 great things to do in June

12 great things to do in June

Summer is now well and truly with us, so its time to check out some of the great things to do in the Netherlands in June. There is lots of outdoor stuff of course, as well as English-language theatre, art fairs and an electrifying exhibition. Stroll in a Japanese garden You have just eleven days to visit the magical Japanese garden at Clingendael Park in the Hague which only opens its doors eight weeks in the year. Tread carefully; the plants are extremely fragile and strollers, baby carriages and dogs are not allowed. There is a separate entrance for wheelchair users who follow a shorter route. Only a limited number of people are allowed in so expect a wait. Until June 11. Website Party at Pinkpop The traditional Pentecost Pinkpop Festival kicks off on June 3 but Saturday is Bieber day and tickets for that day sold out quite some time ago. But you may still be lucky enough to score a ticket for June 4 or 5 when the programme features Liam Gallagher, Broederliefde, Amber Run and many more. Website More Pinksteren festivals here Get steamy at the EYE The EYE film museum in Amsterdam is getting a bit hot under the collar with nearly three weeks of erotic films. The programme is an overview of the history of the erotic film from Ekstase (1933) which featured the first female orgasm on film to ‘titillating virtual-reality sensation Viens!’ ‘So many people, so many desires’, the EYE muses.  Until June 19. Website Pick up some art It’s time for the KunstRai again, where Dutch art galleries – and a sprinkling of Belgian ones - present their artists to the world. Among the many stands at the Rai exhibition centre in Amsterdam is an art cabinet for aspiring collectors where those who like art but whose budget falls short of a Basquiat can snap up bargains for up to €1,500. Until June 5. Website Take in fresh air and culture Terschelling becomes a beehive of cultural activity as the annual Oerol festival invades every nook and corner of the island, from its regular theatres to sheds, the street, and the beach. There’s music, dance, theatre, poetry, performance, and workshops. This year’s line-up includes the wonderful Amsterdam Klezmer group Septacost. From June 9 to June 18. Website Be electrified The venerable Teylers Museum in Haarlem has restored the laboratory of Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, one of the Netherlands most renowned physicists and Nobel prize laureates. A photograph publicising the new wing on the museum’s website shows a bolt of lightning hitting the museum, as if the scientist was creating his own monster of Lorentz. He wasn’t, he was tinkering with his ‘Grote Elektriseermachine’, or electrifying machine, which is also on show. Until May 18 2020. Website See Zeeland from a different perspective There is more to the province of Zeeland than Zeeuws Meisje, sun, sea, mussels and the Delta works.  That is why the Zeeuws Museum in Middelburg asked ten photographers for their take on the province. The result can be seen in Dit is Zeeland, a new permanent exhibition in which ‘the many sides of Zeeland’s culture and history come together.’ You may as well take in the Delta works as long as you are there. They are pretty spectacular after all. Website Enjoy English theatre at the Holland Festival Some Holland Festival treats are on offer in June as well: in Theater Frascati in Amsterdam you can be a witness to a family debate around an American kitchen table in the election year 2016. The subjects under discussion are money, art, history, culture, politics and changing times. The Gabriels, by Richard Nelson, is on from June 9 to June 11. The play is in English with Dutch subtitles. Also in Frascati the film The Tempest Society tells the story of three people setting up a theatre company in Athens and interacting with the audience about the state Greece and Europe find themselves in. It’s in Greek, French and Arabic with English subtitles.  June 13 and 14. Website Visit some Open Gardens Another outdoor activity, which combines the  love of a beautiful garden with unbridled curiosity about how the other half lives, is the annual Open Garden Days event in Amsterdam. Some thirty stately canal home dwellers in the capital are opening the French doors to their gardens (or have their butler do it, we hope) to temporarily share the magnificence of what remains hidden from view the rest of the year. The gardens can be visited from 10am to 5pm on June 16, 17 and 18. Website Walk through art ARTZUID 2017 offers a great opportunity to stretch your legs with plenty of excuses for dawdling. Rudi Fuchs is the curator of the fifth edition of this 5k open air sculpture route along the streets of Amsterdam Zuid and he has concentrated mainly on Dutch abstract sculpture of the post-war period. The exhibition shows the influence of the Stijl movement on different generations of sculptors. There are tours too. Until September 17.  Website Thrill to Limbo Boom Chicago is proud to present: Limbo. The band of musicians, aerial acrobats, illusionists and stuntmen who played to full houses in London, Sydney, Melbourne and Munich will now be performing in Amsterdam. It’s a show so hot Madonna came twice, apparently. If that is not an endorsement we don’t know what is. On June 22, 23, 24 and 25 you get two tickets for the price of one. Until August 6. Website Enjoy an improv marathon ImproGanga improv theatre company is organising Amsterdam's first annual Improv marathon. It's twelve consecutive hours of  improvised comedy and theatre performed in English by local talent as well as international artists, including ImproGanga from Amsterdam, Rebel Chicken from Germany and Merlin's Beard Improv Comedy Society from the UK. At Kunst & Cultuurhuis Cinetol in Amsterdam on June 24. Website  More >


10 things you didn’t know about the Efteling theme park

10 things you didn’t know about the Efteling theme park

A certain other magical kingdom may be ‘the happiest place on earth’ but the Netherlands’ homegrown Efteling has been going strong since 1952. Located in the town of Kaatsheuvel, the iconic Dutch theme park first opened its doors to the public on 31 May, 1952. As it approaches its 65th anniversary, Brandon Hartley lists some wild things you might not know about this ‘World of Wonders’. Walt’s Inspiration? A longstanding (and oft-repeated) legend claims that Walt Disney visited Efteling in the early 1950s and was inspired to break ground on his own theme park in California. How much of this is truth and how much is fantasy? Well, the initial conceptual drawings for Disneyland date back to at least 1948 and Uncle Walt’s muses didn’t hail from any one place. His park drew inspiration from everything including Los Angeles’ Griffith Park to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. However, there’s at least a small possibility that he may have made it to Efteling. Walt and his family toured the Netherlands at least once in the ‘50s but, according to this old news clip, he was more focused on visiting the studio that was handling the Dutch dubbing for his company’s films. A Titan among theme parks While Disneyland Paris continues to be something of a ‘top dog’ among European theme parks, Efteling has definitely come into its own over the past few decades. Disney’s ‘Imagineers’ even allegedly consulted the park’s creative staff while they were plotting the construction of their resort in France back in the ‘80s. Since opening in 1952, Efteling has attracted over 120 million visitors. It’s now open year round and hopes to average five million visitors annually by 2020. To meet those numbers, it’s been continually adding increasingly sophisticated attractions like Baron 1898, an elaborately-themed ‘dive coaster’ that opened in 2015. A new realm of fantasy The park’s next major attraction is set to debut this summer as part of Efteling’s 65th jubilee. Dubbed Symbolica, Palace of Fantasy, it will feature 34 ‘trackless’ carriages that will propel riders through an enchanting world along with Pardoes, the happy-go-lucky jester that serves as Efteling’s mascot. If you’d like to learn more, there’s an ongoing eight-part series all about the €35 million attraction's development and construction that you can watch on YouTube. Here’s a link to episode one. Kate Bush rocks Efteling The famous English singer-songwriter filmed a strange (and now extremely dated) television special at the park after the release of her debut single ‘Wuthering Heights’ in 1978. The 20-minute programme follows the young artist while she appears as a ‘ghost’ in the Spookslot, the park’s haunted castle, and sings alongside some of Efteling’s animatronic residents. She also pops up in a few of the park’s other attractions. You can watch the whole thing here. In case you were wondering, the tombstone that appears in the first scene with Bush’s name on it can reportedly be seen these days in the catacombs within Spookslot’s main hall. Ton van de Ven When he was only 19, this young designer managed to jump start his career at Efteling after one of its creative directors supposedly asked him only a single question during his job interview (‘do you master perspective?’). Van de Ven went on to become the park’s most prolific designer to date and played a major role in the creation of popular attractions including Spookslot, Fata Morgana and Droomvlucht. He retired in 2002 and sadly passed away in 2015. A portrait of him can be found within Villa Volta, the bizarre spinning ‘madhouse’ that opened in 1996. Who? If you grew up outside of western Europe, you’re probably unfamiliar with several of the magical characters that can be found throughout Efteling and Sprookjesbos, its famous 15 acre fairy tale forest. While you can enjoy recreations of moments from world famous stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, they appear alongside Langnek and Holle Bolle Gijs. The former is a character from The Six Servants, one of the Brothers Grimm’s lesser known stories. He can make his neck grow to impossible lengths in order to see across long distances. Gijs, meanwhile, is a fellow with an insatiable appetite. He can be found throughout Efteling at one of many rubbish stations in various different guises where he continually begs visitors to feed him their trash. After you hear him cry ‘PAPIER HIER!” you’ll never forget it. A very *European* theme park Foreign visitors might also be surprised by some of the more risque stuff that can be found in a few spots around the park. The Ariel in the Sprookjesbos seems to have misplaced her seashell bra and appears topless. There’s also Ezeltje Strekje, who hails from a Brothers Grimm story titled The Table, the Ass and the Stick. He’s a donkey that can poop gold. A statue in his honour can be found in a square within the fairy tale forest. In exchange for a Euro, it’ll shoot a plastic coin out its derriere. You won’t find that at Disneyland Paris! Here’s a video of Ezeltje Strekje doing what he does best. Nicotine free...mostly Along with 21 other theme parks and tourist attractions in the Netherlands, Efteling bulked up its rules against smoking earlier this spring. Visitors are no longer allowed to light up while they wait in outdoor queues but the park hasn’t stamped out smoking entirely. Visitors can still enjoy their various tobacco products in other areas like the Sprookjesbos but they’re encouraged to do so in designated smoking areas. A controversial cannibal Monsieur Cannibale has drawn negative attention in recent years. The attraction, which is similar to the Mad Tea Party ride at the various Disney parks, features cauldrons instead of tea cups and a statue of a stereotypical African tribesman at its centre. Visitors spin around in the cauldrons while ‘Monsieur Cannibale’, a 1966 song by the French singer Sacha Distel, pours out of the ride’s overhead speakers. Gisela Williams, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is just one of the attraction’s naysayers. She received her first death threat after she wrote critically of the attraction in a 2014 article. Quieter corners While many Efteling visitors spend their time visiting its larger attractions and taking as many spins on the De Vliegende Hollander water coaster as possible, there are many corners of the park that are far more tranquil. Laafland is a quaint village a bit off the beaten path filled with cheerful robotic characters going about their daily lives. Most days, it’s a great place to get away from the crowds and enjoy a picnic or just a quick break while other guests pass by on the village’s snail-powered monorail. There’s also the Efteling Museum, which offers glimpses at everything from engineering sketches to retired animatronic characters. A few of the latter are somewhat unusual though.   More >


The Next Web: technology’s effect on all of us takes centre stage

The Next Web: technology’s effect on all of us takes centre stage

A lot can happen in a year. In 2016 The Next Web almost doubled in size and in 2017 it was bigger still. More interesting though was that the size and scope of technology’s effect on us - not just our businesses but the way we live our lives, in fact our very notions of reality - was up for discussion too. Esther O’Toole took a look. 'They failed to take into account...man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions,' Aldous Huxley When Aldous Huxley wrote his classic dystopian novel, Brave New World, he suggested that the comfort of a technologically enhanced life, and the distractions it provides us, may pose a risk to individual freedoms. Weird, you'd think, to hear that quoted at the start of a massive tech conference. But James Williams is a philosophy PHD at Oxford. He kickstarted day one with a thoughtful break down of how distracting our current tech has become and his ideas on how to avoid that distraction becoming all consuming. 'I think something profound is happening to attention in the modern age,' Williams told his audience at the opening the Entrepreneurship & Talent events on Thursday morning. 'It's more than a distraction or addiction and how we respond to this change could be one of the biggest moral questions of our age.' Time well spent Williams is the founder of the Time Well Spent campaign which is focused on how users can gain a voice in the design of technologies we have all come to rely on. Talking to DutchNews.nl, he outlined what he describes as The Attention Economy, in which users pay for services with time and attention and how this has become a form of labour to maintain our interaction with services and communications that should be serving us, not the other way round. Though he was clear to point out that it is not malice aforethought by the tech designers, Williams believes that self discipline on the part of the user is not sufficient to stop app alerts and the internet sucking up all our time. Rather we need to find means to collectively 'assert and defend our freedom of attention'. So, Time Well Spent is in part an awareness raising campaign, part exploration and research, and part attention labour union. It seeks to provide a positive, assertive way of combating a problem that currently seems an inescapable part of using consumer technology. 'The Netherlands has a real openness and appreciation of the challenges,' Williams concluded. 'If the world could follow the Dutch way of thinking, I think that would be a really good thing.' Talk to the users It was testimony to the thoughtful programming of this year's event that Williams was booked. More so that he was not the only voice raising these concerns. Similar themes came up in the key-note by Kathryn Myronuk, a founding member of renowned Silicon Valley institute, Singularity University. SU was founded by some of the biggest players in tech to help support startups focused on real global challenges. They now have a base in Eindhoven too. Myronuk pointed out the need for technologists to get out of their own silo. You can engage your user or potential audience directly now, ask them what they think, need and want; as SU students did in a project tackling sexual abuse in schools in Liberia, she said. With a simple online survey, even students with a 2G internet connection were able to send real time feedback and within an hour the researchers were able to chart the widespread nature of the problem they were looking at. Critical thinking 'The difference today is that as these new technologies become usable...as the dilemmas that they might have become visible we can say, hey, let's do what Liberia does,' she says.  'Let's ask every teenager involved what they think of this issue. Let's decide that the 21st Century attitude is that since we can ask everybody involved, at least for that initial discussion, let´s assume that we need to do that.' This was the stuff that was worth bearing the long queues of opening day for. And provided the kind of critical thinking and inspiration some visitors were after. ´We´re looking for design related topics. Like the design thinking workshop. Maybe we'll meet some new people, and you always bump into some familiar faces,' says visitor Thalia Keren, an interaction designer from Rotterdam based Unitid. 'Yes, we want to inspire ourselves and hear new things,' agreed her colleague Myrthe Geldof. Reality hacking And that inspiration was on hand. Echoing Williams on Friday morning was Galit Ariel, author, AR specialist and self-proclaimed Digital Hippie. She told DutchNews.nl: 'I believe that we shifted away from forming technology that serves human needs, to technologies that trigger compulsive behaviours – attempting to ‘train’ to adapt to machine thinking.' Her ideas on how to improve on this situation were very much in line with Williams', 'designing to user needs rather than market gaps; designing with the core aim of creating a long-term value for user, industry and technology.' Ariel was talking on one stage about the risks of literal 'reality hacking' (as technologies such as AR and VR advance). Meanwhile speakers elsewhere were still focused solely on revenue creation and driving growth. The two side by side seems to point towards a new shift in thinking among technologists and researchers, away from the passion and success of those creating the tools of our futures, to the real needs of the beneficiaries of their inventiveness. But isn’t that why people come to The Next Web? Sure, they have continued to build on the festival vibe, great evening events and resources. But, to hear from a wide range of experts and mavericks, and get a grasp on where things are going next; that´s what makes TNW more than just a jazzed up business conference. The ethics of those creating consumer technologies have never been more important. And we as users need to feel empowered to engage with the creators of our digital world, so it is made in our image.  More >


DutchNews podcast – The Moonlighting Monarch Edition – Week 20

In this week's podcast we debate the likely shape of the next government after the coalition talks broke down, find out about  look at why Amsterdam wants to let Muslim police officers wear headscarves, fight over who gets the tickets to see the pandas and jibe Molly for knowing nothing about football. Top Story King Willem-Alexander confesses to being a secret KLM pilot News Amsterdam police consider including headscarves in uniform Policeman chases own tail in pursuit of decoy bike Ede is the happiest place in the Netherlands, Rotterdam the most miserable Feyenoord win first title in 18 years Rush of demand for tickets to see pandas Discussion: Where now for the Dutch coalition talks? Schippers calls a pause for self-reflection Formation dilemmas: D66 not keen on coalition with ChristenUnie Dutch MPs debate coalition formation as process begins all over again Party leaders to meet to discuss next steps after Dutch coalition talks flop Talks on forming a new Dutch government collapse over immigration Analysis: GroenLinks lacked the muscle to force a radical change of course  More >


Analysis: GroenLinks lacked the muscle to force a radical change of course

The three issues that the parties were unable to agree on were the same areas where Jesse Klaver was most keen to make his mark – but the Greens could still have a say in the outcome, says Gordon Darroch The announcement on Monday evening that talks to form a new Dutch government had broken down came as a shock, but no great surprise. There had been indications towards the end of last week that the four parties – the Liberals (VVD), Christian Democrats (CDA), progressive liberals D66 and left-wing green party GroenLinks – were starting to grow tired of each other's company. The first major breach came from the CDA, whose more progressive wing lamented that leader Sybrand Buma had parked the bus squarely in front of GroenLinks's energy reforms. Party veteran Herman Wijffels went so far as to compare his leader unfavourably with Donald Trump on the issue of climate change. Then came a poll at the weekend by Maurice de Hond which revealed growing scepticism among the VVD's membership at the prospect of teaming up with Jesse Klaver's gang. In both cases the momentum came from the grassroots rather than the leadership: the CDA's voter base is heavily weighted towards rural conservatives with little appetite for higher road taxes or ambitious renewable energy projects. But as Edith Schippers admitted in her brief press conference on Monday evening, the talks foundered not on the environmental question or income redistribution, but on the issue that produced the most heated exchanges of a muted election campaign: immigration. Practicalities The differences between Jesse Klaver on the left and VVD leader Mark Rutte on the right proved to be intractable, to say nothing of the CDA. Rutte's objections are largely practical – accommodating large numbers of refugees is too logistically challenging, too expensive and too socially disruptive in his view, hence his willingness to outsource the problem to tyrants presumptive such as Turkey's Erdogan. But Buma's position has arguably become even more entrenched since he absorbed populist anxieties about Islam encroaching on Dutch cultural values. D66 leader Alexander Pechtold must have thought he could broker a compromise, but the gap between his partners on the right and GroenLinks proved a bridge too far. Given that the three issues Schippers cited were the same ones that Klaver named at the outset as his party's main priorities, it is not hard to work out where the fault lines lay. Ultimately GroenLinks's 14 seats did not give him the necessary leverage to put the kind of radical stamp on the cabinet that his voters expected. In that context it is significant that both Schippers and the four leaders were at pains to point out that the decision to pull the plug was taken collectively and amicably. It leaves the door open for GroenLinks to return to the table, either as a coalition partner or the support act to a minority administration, if the 'core trio' of VVD, CDA and D66 are unable to find a suitable replacement.  More >


Would you volunteer with refugees? These 14 Dutch people did

Would you volunteer with refugees? These 14 Dutch people did

What is a typical volunteer? This is what international photographer Marcus Valance and his partner writer Daan Posthouwer asked themselves after spending most of 2016 volunteering in Greece and Lebanon during the refugee crisis. The project 'Portraits of Dutch Volunteers' grew out of a desire to find out more about what makes a volunteer tick and to show that 'volunteers aren't all hippies wearing homespun socks’, says Marcus. They chose their subjects randomly from a large cross-section of willing and eager volunteers, travelling all over the country to meet them and talk about their experiences. ‘Portraits of Dutch Volunteers’ shows how diverse this group really is. 'This project has a strong message - that there is no such thing as a typical volunteer,' says Daan. 'The motivations for volunteering are as diverse as the people themselves. These people, who have put their lives on hold to help others during the refugee-crisis, deserve to be honoured for what they do.' Ansje (62) and Asgar (50) from Noord-Holland Ansje: 'I felt very sad and powerless about the refugees and wanted to do something specific instead of only donating. So when there was a chance to go and help in March 2016 on Lesbos I took it. After that I returned twice to Kara Tepe on Lesbos and asked my Iranian boyfriend to come with me because he would be of great help as he speaks Farsi.' Nus (57) from Noord-Brabant 'In May 2015 my wife and I revisited Lesbos for the first time in 25 years... We saw for ourselves what the newspapers were writing about: rows upon rows of frightened yet relieved people; jaded yet still with strength; sad, but happy at the same time; hungry and thirsty people; old people, small children, entire families... When I was there in September that year I was asked by my university to participate in a fundraising for refugees so I could give meaning and shape to my gnawing discomfort ... for me that was a reason to bring the theme of "refugees" into my educational institution. I believe it is important to let the world know that helping people in need – in any way, not necessarily by being a volunteer on a Greek island- is an obligation for all of us regardless of age, sex, religion, political orientation, occupation, cultural background, social status, wealth or any other division one can make. Daan (36) from Utrecht 'In late 2015 I read the stories and I saw the pictures of friends who worked on Lesbos as volunteers. At that time, thousands of refugees were arriving each day. The need was very great and it was all very chaotic. The volunteers who took care of the refugees in any way they could, for example by handing out food and clean clothes. As a mother of two children aged 8 and 10 I made the choice to help and a week later I was on Lesbos. It's because I am a mother that I wanted to help out. I believe that when you're raising kids you need to show them a good example. I want to show them that there is always a way to help others in times of need; it does not matter where a person comes from. What if we ever need such help? Now my children understand why I did it and it's taught them a great lesson.' Esther (39) from Noord-Holland 'Ever since I was a child I wished that people would look at the world with an open heart and an open mind. Helping other people as a volunteer gave me the feeling that I was doing the right thing; reaching out and holding children and adults from all over the world who had left everything and lost so much.' Flip (48) from Noord-Holland 'Working with refugees is inspiring because it shows the resilience and perseverance of people and it gives you a wider outlook on the world. As an asylum lawyer I give people the opportunity to get their lives back on track. It gives my work meaning if over time they manage to find their feet.' Ly (37) from Noord-Holland 'I am one of the many boat refugees who fled Vietnam in the late 70s. I was a nine months old. Floating on the sea for days, we were picked up by a Dutch cargo ship eventually ending up in the Netherlands. With the help of many others, my family and I have built a new life here. Now, 36 years later, with the number of Syrian refugees drastically increasing I decided to go to Lesbos to help as these people deserved the same help as I did 36 years ago.' Jan Willem (19) from Zuid-Holland 'I started the work because I followed the news, and couldn't sit down and just watch all the horror. First I signed up with the Red Cross helping refugees in the emergency shelters. After that, I felt I could do more so I decided to go to Greece and then I really couldn’t stop helping.' Puck (25) from Noord-Brabant 'I went to help on Lesbos because I could not bear to see these people making this terrible journey, especially the children and especially because it was not their choice. And I believe if you take care of people after such a traumatic experience then you help them get back to some kind of normality. Also, the smiles you get from the children you take care of even after such a scary boat trip is truly priceless.' Jade (18), Peter (44), Nicole (48) & Storm (12) from Zeeland Nicole: 'It began when I saw pictures of the boats in Greece and the refugees drowning in the sea. I was not able to help over there but when I saw the situation in Dunkirk, so close to my home, I realised that I was able to help. After my first visit Peter was so proud he decided to come with me and soon after that, the kids came with us too.' Hendrik (22) from Noord-Brabant 'About a year ago I got a message from a volunteer who desperately needed help at Idomeni. So three days later I jumped on an airplane… I wanted to do something for the most vulnerable groups in the camp: children, pregnant women and the sick. Every morning I drove to the supermarket, bought bananas and then distributed them in the camp from tent to tent. Soon this was picked up by media and volunteers and the project got bigger. I started with 200 bananas and eventually there were 4,000 to 5,000 bananas distributed by 25 volunteers every day. This is how Team Bananas started. We still exist but we are now helping out in other parts of Greece and in Turkey as well.'  More >


Video: Dutch tv documentary claims Trump has ties to Russia mobsters

Video: Dutch tv documentary claims Trump has ties to Russia mobsters

Dutch television current affairs show Zembla is claiming that US president Donald Trump has extensive connections to Russian oligarchs and even to convicted gangsters. The 45-minute documentary looks at Trumps alleged relationship with Russian mobster Felix Slater and agreements he has with rich Russians. 'The Russians are alleged to be in possession of sensitive information about Trump. And that exposes Trump to blackmail,' the programme makers say.  'Fake news, tweets Trump: “I have nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing!” Trump swears he has no ties with the Russians. But is that actually the case?' the programme asks.   More >


Dutch News Podcast – The Crashing Boars Edition – Week 19

Dutch News Podcast – The Crashing Boars Edition – Week 19

In this week's podcast we catch up with the latest news from the coalition talks, Dutch success in the Europa League and Eurovision Song Contest, and hear about some runaway pigs in Gelderland. Unfortunately technical gremlins have deprived us of the discussion section of the programme, but normal service will hopefully be resumed next week. Top story Still no government in sight after 58 days News Schiphol tries to cut waiting times Criminals cutting off electronic tags ProRail issues warning about train track selfies Wild boars rampage through campsite (Telegraaf) Video from De Telegraaf Sport Feyenoord miss chance to clinch Eredivisie title Ajax reach final of Europa League Advocaat unveiled as national team manager in heated press conference    More >


Stop wasting food: six initiatives to change the way we eat

Stop wasting food: six initiatives to change the way we eat

In the Netherlands, we throw away €2.5bn worth of edible food a year - but it doesn’t have to be this way. Deborah Nicholls-Lee reports on six initiatives which were set up to reduce our food waste. The United Nations has pledged to reduce our planet’s food waste by 50% by 2030  and each country must play its part. Here in the Netherlands, we discard over a third of our food output yet 2.5 million people live below the poverty line and struggle to feed themselves. The following schemes are challenging this paradox, helping the Netherlands to meet its food waste goals and rethink the way it uses food. NoFoodWasted  Who doesn’t love those 35% off stickers? NoFoodWasted have developed a free app that alerts you when items on your shopping list are marked down in your local supermarket. The app currently has around 40,000 users and scooped this year’s NRC award for the most impactful Start Up. Founded by August de Vocht in December 2014, NoFoodWasted was inspired by a conversation with a clerk in a supermarket about a cut-price chicken. At the time, he was frustrated about this missed opportunity for a barbecue: 'What if I had known this before? Then I could have bought the chicken and saved it from being thrown away,' he told DutchNews.nl. 'I always bought products close to their best before date and I could not understand why no supermarket was doing any marketing on it.' But the app is not just about the shopper. It helps the entire supply chain: 'If a consumer buys more economically, buys what he needs, then a supermarket can order less…and there’s less waste, then the farmer can only produce what we need. The aim is to reduce food waste in the whole sector; to turn around a supply-driven market to a demand-driven market.' Almost 200 supermarkets across the Netherlands have signed up for the app, which will soon also be available in Belgium, Germany and the UK. De Verspillingsfabriek The Verspillingsfabriek - or ‘Waste Factory’ - produces sauces, soups and stews made from leftovers from farmers and supermarkets, including over-ripe or misshapen vegetables and goods that are about to go out of date. The smartly-packaged products are then sold in stores under the brand Barstensvol (fit to burst) or sold back to the suppliers to sell under their own label. With its motto of ‘Wij staan voor de rest’ (We stand up for the leftovers), the Verspillingsfabriek take the metaphor further, recognising the value of those that are often marginalised in the job market. Working alongside associations like START Foundation and WSD, they employ the vulnerable: early school-leavers, the elderly, and people with a disability, who together make up around 70% of their workforce. Instock Rescued food can also make a quality dining experience according to Instock, a nonprofit restaurant chain founded by four Albert Heijn employees who saw how much food was thrown away and together sought a solution.  With the financial support of Albert Heijn, they opened their first restaurant in 2014, serving dishes made from rescued food. Today, Instock has restaurants in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, as well as a vintage fire engine which has been converted into a food truck which you can hire for your event. Instock serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu changes constantly, depending on what the haul of the day has been, and is largely reliant on what is reaching its best before date at the 80 participating Albert Heijn stores. They estimate that they have already rescued around 250,000 kilos of food. Instock works in association with a local brewery to produce Pieper Bier made from reject potatoes. They have also created a recipe book and run regular masterclasses where people can learn how to prepare tasty dishes from leftover food. Buurtbuik Modelled on the Portuguese Re-food movement, Buurtbuik is an Amsterdam-based initiative seeking a financially and environmentally sustainable solution to the dual problem of food waste and hunger, while bringing communities closer together. Run by volunteers, the organisation collects excess food from restaurants, supermarkets and growers and invites local residents to come and cook food together with the spoils. The participants can then either take the prepared dishes home or dine together with their neighbours – all completely free of charge. Kromkommer Looks aren’t everything at Kromkommer. The Rotterdam-based company, whose name is a clever wordplay of ‘crooked’ and ‘cucumber’, uses the wonky, knobbly vegetables that the supermarkets reject, to cook up delicious soups.  'What we want to do is change the perception,' explains director Chantal Engelen. 'This is how vegetables are. They can be strange or crooked or whatever, but it’s all about taste and flavour.' The project began when Chantal and her co-founders noticed how much waste there was with the growers, at the very first stage of the supply chain, and set out to change that. Kromkommer launched in 2014 and its products are now stocked in around 175 stores across the Netherlands, including Marqt and WAAR. 'The goal is to get vegetables actually on the shelf and not in our soup,' says Chantal, who hopes to sell the funny-looking vegetables under the Kromkommer brand name in the next couple of years. Recognising the imperfect as 'something positive and high in value' is crucial to changing our food habits, she says. ResQ Club ResQ Club is a clever app which finds meals at restaurants that would otherwise go to waste and sells them as take-outs – and occasionally eat-ins - for around half the price. It began with a pilot in Helsinki in February 2016, and launched in Amsterdam the following summer. Its 10,000 users in the Netherlands have all subscribed for free, as have the 70 catering establishments which register on a ‘no cure, no pay’ basis. David Kloosterboer, who manages the Dutch branch, has had very positive feedback from participating businesses: 'Every chef and every restaurant hates throwing food away. They’re just really happy that there’s a tool available now so that they don’t have to throw away food any more but they can still sell it. And also that they’re contributing to a more sustainable food chain.' As well as improving the restaurants’ sustainable branding, the app helps them find new customers. For consumers, it’s an affordable way to try out new places in their local area while reducing food waste. 'For restaurants and consumers, it’s a win-win situation,' says David. The service will soon be available in Groningen and hopes to expand to Rotterdam and Utrecht. ResQ also operates in Estonia, Germany and Sweden. What else is being done to cut food waste? Email editor@dutchnews.nl or use the comment section below to share your stories.  More >


Have you got what it takes? The hunt for international talent is on

Have you got what it takes? The hunt for international talent is on

The war for talent is on in the Netherlands and international companies are hunting for highly-skilled, well-travelled employees.  Like many expats, Phil Mander came to the Netherlands for a fantastic job opportunity and stayed for the quality of life ‘I moved to Amsterdam from London six years ago and haven't looked back. In that time, I've bought an apartment here, started a family and began working freelance. Amsterdam has one of the best tech scenes in Europe and as a web developer it's a great place to work,’ says  Mander, a tech specialist at Versatile.nl. In its most recent Index of Globalisation the KOF Swiss Economic Institute places the Netherlands right at the top; the most globalised country in the world. It makes sense of course. Holland’s key location within Europe has given The Netherlands a rich history of international trading. Combine this with a winning attitude to inclusion and multiculturalism; its topping UNICEF’s recent report into child happiness; and a culture that values work-life balance, then it’s easy to see why the Netherlands makes an attractive destination for people from all over the world to come and settle. Globalised workforce And, of course, globalised countries need a globalised workforce. The European Commission, in its last look at labour needs, was only too aware of the challenges to economic sustainability from changing demographics across the union. Increased life spans have kept the ‘baby-boomer’ generation working for longer but now they are reaching retirement en masse. Youth unemployment, the increasing trend towards technological automation and international student mobility are all combining to create a very different workplace and workforce. Some specialisations, such as healthcare, I.T. (especially in fields like Artificial Intelligence and Big Data), and engineering are in dire need of fresh blood. So much so that other European neighbours have taken radical steps to attract new talent: a few years ago the German unemployment office opened a branch in Madrid hoping to help fill their need for some 30,000 engineers over the next 10 years. So, the many international companies that have either sprung from Dutch entrepreneurial talent, or who have chosen to make the Netherlands their European base, are constantly on the lookout for new, highly skilled, well travelled employees. Those who boast good educational credentials, have insights into the cultures of partner countries or who speak multiple languages are in with an excellent chance. They’re also looking for innovative ways to attract and keep the best talent they can find. Explosion of services In Dutch business centres such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and now Eindhoven with its ‘Brainport’ region, there has been an explosion of services and events geared specifically towards expats. Think expat oriented real estate agents, companies that help you make the move from one country to the other, and events focused on internationals like the Expatica ‘i am not a tourist’ Job Fair for Internationals. All of them are seeking to make the daunting concept of immigration look attractive and manageable. ‘I came to The Netherlands for love not work, but soon started working as a freelancer. Big events like the “i am not a tourist” Expat Fairs were a really useful way to make lots of contacts in one go and find out about groups that I hadn’t considered looking up,' says freelance writer Sarah Edwards. The success of Expatica’s ‘i am not a tourist’ Expat Fairs in the past led them to set up a separate event dedicated specifically to the job hunting part of immigrating to the Netherlands. A Job Fair may not seem like an innovation in recruitment but with digital enhancements it seeks to make the process of matching up the best talent and the best vacancies as easy as possible; for both those looking for work and those looking to hire. ‘It’s still really important to be able to look people in the eye, to shake their hand,’ said Tom Bey, one of the organisers of the event. ‘But we’ve also added tools to make the networking and matchmaking as effortless as possible. Candidates can upload their CV and create a web based personal profile page specific to the event; then share this with those recruiting simply by having their badge scanned. Companies can seek real candidates for real positions.’ Big companies Such an event allows big companies like Booking.com, Atlassian, Murata and Mercedes Benz to meet multiple prospects in a single day. Job hunters can apply to a wide variety of companies and recruiters in one fell swoop, making for an efficient and more interesting way to find that ‘golden opportunity’ or build a useful network of contacts. It’s a ‘buyer’s market’ for highly skilled workers. Expatica are expanding these events rapidly. The Job Fair for Internationals will take place at the World Trade Centre, Amsterdam on Sat 20th May, and will be followed swiftly by the' I am not a tourist' Expat Fair in Eindhoven on 11th June and then the annual Expat Fair at the Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam, on 8th October. All of them will be information laden, with presentations and exhibitors geared to helping new arrivals find what they need in terms of education, family care and help with health or housing. Of the 17 million inhabitants of the Netherlands right now, nearly a quarter come from outside the country and recent polls have shown that four out of five workers in the Netherlands are happy with their job. Plus, there’s 13 of the top 200 universities in the world, good attitudes to gender parity, and English is the go-to second language. The pull factors for international workers are clear: the lowlands offers brilliant opportunities for those looking for a taste of the high life. For more information and tickets for the Job Fair for Internationals go to: http://www.jobfairforinternationals.nl/  More >


Sorghvliet park in The Hague is a peaceful place for those in the know

Sorghvliet park in The Hague is a peaceful place for those in the know

Tucked away behind an imposing wall on the route from The Hague to Scheveningen is a little-known park with an eventful history. Moira Holden has been to visit. A sea-like carpet of bluebells stretches deep into the woodland in Sorghvliet Park as spring coaxes out the wildflowers. Secluded by a high wall as the traffic thunders up the road towards the seaside, this peaceful Dutch scene replaces the sound of the cars with a relaxing, calm mood. Sorghvliet translates into ‘free of cares’ and it is easy to see why this leafy oasis has become a place for quiet solitude. It isn’t a busy park, but it’s definitely a special spot for those in the know. At this time of the year, the floor of the parkland becomes a platform for the season’s wood anemones and lily of the valley, but it’s the breath-taking swathes of bluebells that dominate the lie of the parkland. Today, the towering trees and the wildflowers don’t give a hint of the major role played by the park in the history of the state of the Netherlands. Origins Jacob Cats, the Dutch politician and prominent poet who had a background in law, is the person responsible for the origins of Sorghvliet. He came to live in The Hague in the seventeenth century and recognised the potential of the bare dunes of the landscape because he had experience of reclaiming land. At the age of 65, he set about making the area a home for himself and turned a small farmstead into a mansion – Catshuis. ‘By this time, his wife had died and his two daughters had left home and had their own families,’ says Mien Huisman-Berkhout, a guide for the IVN (Institute for Nature and Sustainability). ‘But his grandchildren would come here to play, fish and skate, and get lost in the maze.’ Cats, known affectionately by the Dutch as ‘Father Cats’, built a formal garden and enjoyed its tranquillity – frequently he would sit on a ridge surrounded by the bluebells to compose poetry and moral tales for the Emblem books. ‘He was considered a very wise man, and Dutch people would often put his books next to the Bible on their shelves,’ said Mien. ‘His wish was to give the land to the following generations, but after the death of his second daughter the estate was sold.’ New owners Cats lived at the park until his death at the age of 82 in 1660. The Bentinck family took ownership - they delighted in their surroundings and were keen to show off the beauty of the garden, so it soon became well-known in the Netherlands. The first member of the family, Hans Willem Bentinck, turned the park into a French landscape in 1675. But just one generation later, his son Willem, changed the landscape to an English design. In the 19th century, Sorghvliet was bought by King Willem II after he had lost his lands following the separation from Belgium. He commissioned plans for an opulent palace, but he lacked the funds to make the plans into a reality, and following his death much of his land was sold to pay off the high levels of debt he had accumulated. At one point, the orchards and kitchen gardens guaranteed that the estate was as self-sufficient as possible and owners would swap bulbs and seeds with other estates to bring in new flora alongside the beech, oak, lime, elm and horse chestnut trees. Later, as the city began to undergo more building development a wall was built in1920 to protect the park’s seclusion and to keep out the noise. Second World War The occupation by the Germans during the Second World War brought a massive change to the peaceful surroundings. They used the site as a place to train spies and to release V2 rockets on London. Eagle-eyed visitors can spot where the ground still slopes at certain points – this is where the mobile launchers were operated and left their mark. ‘A thundering noise could be heard as the rockets took off on their way to London,’ says Mien. ‘Sometimes the Germans got it wrong and the noise would stop – that’s when we knew the rockets were going to land on The Hague instead.’ The old, imposing trees in Sorghvliet are a legacy of the occupation. Elsewhere around the city, the trees were cut down because the people of the The Hague needed wood for their heating during the war years. Residence of renown Straight after the war, the Americans took over the park, but did little with it. The estate has never been owned by the council of The Hague and is now in the hands of the Dutch state. Inside the park, the Catshuis is visible through a security fence. It may look rather nondescript in the sense that it isn’t a large, impressive building, but it has been one of the official residences for Dutch prime ministers since 1963. Some prime ministers have lived here or used it as a pied-a-terre, but it has principally become a high-powered location to receive high-profile visitors. Barack Obama attended a G7 summit leaders’ conference in the Catshuis in March 2014, alongside Angela Merkel, François Hollande and David Cameron. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was a guest here when he visited the Netherlands for the first time. Despite the closeted VIP presence and the ghosts of its history, the park’s main function has come full circle and is enjoyed again solely for its beauty. Jacob Cats would definitely approve. An annual pass costs €7.15 and is available from The Hague tourist office.  More >


Master class: museums open doors to Dutch language learners

Master class: museums open doors to Dutch language learners

Groups learning Dutch as a second language have been crossing the entrances of a range of museums after the Stad en Taal (city and language) initiative was launched to teach Dutch culture in an accessible way. Julia Corbett joined a tour at the Rijksmuseum. The daunting task of speaking Dutch has just become a lot easier thanks to the Rijksmuseum’s new initiative, which immerses learners into the language and culture of the Netherlands during intimate Dutch speaking tours. Under the title Stad en Taal, six museums in Amsterdam together with the city council are providing the educational programme after research showed that a museum setting was the perfect location for boosting language learning. The researchers found that after learning more about the country’s history in an interactive way, people also began to feel more at home. Friendships Among our group taking the Stad en Taal guided tour were people from Russia, China and Syria. Although many had never been to a museum of this size before, our tour guide Tjyying Liu quickly captured everyone’s imagination and encouraged the group to speak up and describe their responses to the art – entirely in Dutch of course. Starting out as 20 nervous newcomers to Dutch, Tiyying’s passion coupled with the inspiring scenery from the Netherlands ‘Golden Age’, meant that by the end we were chatting in Dutch and even attempting our own art criticism. Guides leading the Rijksmuseum’s ‘Proef de Gouden Eeuw op z’n mooist’ (‘Taste the Golden Age at its Best’) tour adapt the level of Dutch to the students to bring history to life for those learning the language. The Rijksmuseum tour takes people on a one-hour whistle stop tour of the Dutch Golden Age, from Rembrandt to Vermeer. Teachers ‘We've spent months trying out the tour and invited Dutch teachers to help us shape the students’ experience,' says Sander Daams, from the education department at the Rijksmuseum. ‘There were already tours for tourists and children, but this is a special group of people to reach out to. ‘We have picked out certain themes such as trade, furniture, interiors, and food and drink from the Golden Age because it is much easier to link their learning in that way.' Russian student Dasha has been taking lessons at the Sagènn Educatie language school and said: ‘It's brilliant. We are able to see this museum and others while practising the language... I like the fact that we are encouraged to talk and are not just told about the art.’ Culture project Ten years in the making, the Stad en Taal project was created to encourage students to take their learning out of the classroom to boost their confidence and interest in the Netherlands' cultural past. Dutch teacher Anne-Marie de Ben from language school Sagènn Educatie, who brought her students on the tour, said: ‘It is crucial that students take the things they learn in school outside the class room and use them. This will help them pick up more of the language and eventually learn to love it.’  More >


May the fiets be with you: a bikepacking trip in Noord Holland

May the fiets be with you: a bikepacking trip in Noord Holland

Bikepacking is a new cycling trend. It's basically lightweight touring/camping on a mountain bike or racing bike using the latest generation of bags which don't need carriers or racks.  Mike Cooper went on a bikepacking trip through Noord Holland and Friesland The great whites were following me. There were eight of them. They were big. I wasn't nervous, I was enjoying their company. One thing about long-distance solo bikepacking: alone is the default. Great white egrets, herons more common to the Ukraine than to the Netherlands, are welcome company along the endless Houtribdijk, heading north out of Lelystad into an icy headwind towards Enkhuizen and fietsknooppunt 12. It was day two and I was fast running out of fuel. Three day tour My brief journey in early spring took three days and two nights. North from Haarlem to Den Oever, over the Afsluitdijk, south around the Frisian coast from Zurich to Lelystad, over the Houtribdijk, around the coast to Hoorn and across back to Haarlem: all using the ingenious Dutch fietsknooppunten system to navigate. Known variously in translation as 'cycle junctions' and 'bike nodes', those little white signs with a bike logo, arrows and green numbers in a circle can get you virtually anywhere if you have a bike, a map, a vague sense of direction, and are okay with the feeling of being totally lost most of the time. Sure, there's an app called fietsknoop but I found it difficult to use on the road due to the sun (no, really). But there's also the Netherlands' strongest bike map. This ruggedised chart is marketed as De sterkste fietskaart van Nederland and published by Buijten & Shipperheijn. It was my Brienne of Tarth: my truest and hardiest companion. It has many (but not all) of the bike nodes marked. Wild ponies and wisent bison Thanks to a sudden rare burst of decent weather in early April I packed up and set off northwards. Campsites in NL are mostly closed up until April, so the timing was opportune for some hardy overnighting. The journey began in the Kennemerduinen National Park. This undulating duned nature reserve is mostly populated with grey-haired couples aged around 60 riding electric bicycles two abreast. If you are fortunate to visit the park at a time when these creatures have not emerged, then one can also see pristine dune-scapes, wisent bison, wild ponies, Scottish highland cattle and a decent amount of bird-life. The coastal air is particularly crisp here. Follow your nodes The cyclepaths through the dunes are all well-marked with nodes. The trick is to remember the next four numbers: the ones you need in the coming half hour or so. There appears no rhyme or reason to the order (which no doubt does exist) as your route will cut through a multitude of node sequences. I found myself repeating mantras: '12, 47, 48, 5,' and so on. Having map or app on hand at all times is an essential part of node navigating. From the dunes of the west coast I headed east and inland through the suburban sprawl of Noord Holland. From Alkmaar to Middenmeer the real estate was relentless. At times this gets full-on Truman Show creepy (neighbours simultaneously pressure-hosing their driveways next to each other, grinning wildly) but once through the village of Winkel, things get rural again. Lost again, Frik! When going long-distance on a bicycle have food, snacks, ample sugary drink at the ready, especially when the weather is chilly. Your body uses energy first to heat you up, and then to power you along. And if you ever cycle across the Afsluitdijk eat well in advance. During the traverse you are basically cycling behind a dyke, alongside a motorway in the sea. All the vehicles except for you are swooshing along at around 130 kph. 'The great thing about cycling in the Netherlands is that it's mostly all flat,' is certainly true. But this also means you have to pedal all the time. All. The. Time. And no more so than on the Afsluitdijk. Bubble-wrap mattress The dijk is a 32-km-long straight line. On sunny days, the cycle path in the distance disappears into silver pools of fata morgana. You pedal on and on, yet appear to get nowhere. Then you realise you have no energy left and find yourself grabbing for muesli bars and other confectionary, desperate as you are to keep the legs grinding along. On a bad day, with a headwind, it could take you two hours to traverse this engineering miracle and symbol of Dutch Soul. Be warned. On finally reaching the other side, I rushed to Routiers Restaurant Zurich (who kindly allowed me to park my bike inside their entrance hall, next to the Fietsers Welkom sign) and gobbled down an 3-fried-egg and bacon uitsmijter, apple tart and coffee. Thence, energized, a further 24 kilometers south to Camping Hinderloopen, the first night under canvas. First conclusion after climbing into the tent: bubble-wrap may be compact, but it's rubbish as an insulator against freezing ground. Second, after 167 kilometres in a day and a couple of beers it doesn't matter: you sleep. I had been in the saddle for almost seven hours and burnt some 2,500 calories. The solar-powered light/powerbank by WakaWaka had been soaking rays all day and it was time to feed the phone. Mine was the only tent at the campsite. Ommelebommelestein The following morning at first light skylarks began to sing high above the encampment. I packed up my gear and headed to the campsite mini-mart where the coffee was hot. By contrast, Friesland (Freezeland) was cold that day. Frigid sea mist permeated the air and I got going as quickly as possible: once the legs creak back into action the body soon generates some heat. Stavoren, Laaksum, Oudemirdum, Nieuw Amerika, Lemmer: the Frisian place names have an exotic ring. None more so than Urk. Formerly an island dating back from the 10th century, Urk has an insular reputation: 'there are strangers, and there are Urkers' the local saying goes. The strangers are brought into the world by storks but Urkers come from Ommelebommelestein, a rock in the IJsselmeer. I did not stop there. I continued south to the Ketelbrug and there I saw the body of a dead man. Red-letter day A water police boat with a hoist had just lifted the dead man out of the water, which pured from the stretcher-like canvass harness. His feet dangled lugubriously. I continued on my way, being ushered to do so by the police team. I reflected in silence. Later I read that the man had been missing for some weeks, his car abandoned, a suspected suicide. Sometimes you lose your fietsknooppunten completely. This being the Netherlands, you can then simply refer to the normal, utilitarian cycle path signage. These signposts with red lettering on a white background provide more direct, less scenic directions and are a perfect fallback option when you lose your nodes. I followed the red-lettered signs to Lelystad and soon picked up the nodes again and headed from 34 to 12: the second insane dyke: the aforementioned Houtribdijk which is just under 30 kilometers long and marks the border between the IJsselmeer to the north, and the Markermeer to the south. Here you cycle closer to the water than on the Afsluitdijk which makes it far more scenic but also more exposed to the weather. Wind and sun today. While the uncommon great white egrets (whose pristine feathers were used as ornaments by knights of yore) were a pleasant surprise, more common courting couples of great crested grebes and gadwall and distant brown-sailed boats also distracted the eyes pleasingly from the hard work being put in by the legs. De Hulk Upon reaching Enkhuizen I had had enough for the day. The dyke had sapped all energy reserves and I pitched my tent at the municipal campsite at the northern edge of this old harbour town once more important than Amsterdam. After another huge uitsmijter and a sun-soaked beer, I bedded down and, due to the semi-public nature of the campsite, took the wheels off the bike and put frame and wheels in the foretent. Bright sunlight and the 'pok' of a tennis ball hitting my tent woke me up. The ball had been thrown by a dog-owner not yet used to the campsite being used. She was very apologetic. I set off and almost immediately suffered my first and only puncture of the trip. A spare inner tube means no messing about with roadside repair kits, and once the new tube is installed, one brief, near magical whiff from a CO2 cartridge pump and the new tyre is instantly inflated. The coastal route from Enkhuizen to Hoorn was certainly the prettiest scenery on the tour. From up on this meandering, historic dyke you see the Markermeer to the left, and marshy waterways punctuated by smallholdings to the right. After Hoorn it is time to head inland again. But first pass by De Hulk: just because of the name. Straight lines in the sun (even the clouds are lining up today), and the final stretch of Dutch countryside from De Hulk to De Rijp is warm and inviting. I try to set a fast pace. I am now very tired and will be happy to get home. When you get over-tired that's when you really get lost, and this route went very pear-shaped between West Knollendam and the ferry to Spaarndam. Extra time, kilometers and energy were all spent trying to work out where the frik I was. This time neither knooppunt nor red-letter signs were helping. I resorted to analogue compass and headed due south, regardless. Somehow I then ended up where I needed to be: amid a group of French tourists on e-bikes crossing the North Sea Canal on the gratis ferry. From there it was a short jaunt back to Haarlem. You really don't have to grind hundreds of kilometers to enjoy a cycling trip in the Netherlands using fietsknooppunten. Any short trip out of your comfort zone will be enhanced by following the green signs. Download the app, pack a boterham and pedal off. May the fiets be with you.  More >