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


10 great things to do this week – August 10-16

10 great things to do this week – August 10-16

From bursts of colour at the seaside and the music of George Gershwin to tall men and self-mockery, here's our pick of the week's best things to do. Ooh and aah with delight The coastline at Scheveningen is lit up by thousands of fireworks during the annual International Firework Festival which takes place over two weekends, starting this Friday. This weekend there are displays by firework experts from Poland, Germany, Japan and Korea. Next weekend it's the turn of Italy, the Netherlands, China and Spain. Scheveningen, August 14, 15, 21 and 22. www.vuurwerkfestivalscheveningen.nl Sway to smooth sounds Former leader Henk Meutgeert returns to conduct the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw in a programme of Riffs and Rhythms from composers ranging from George Gershwin to Duke Ellington. He is joined by guests such as American vocalist Deborah Brown, singer and pianist Georgie Fame and saxophonist Benjamin Herman. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, August 16. www.concertgebouw.nl Admire the athleticism on the beach Top teams from around the world compete in the World Tour Grand Slam beach volleyball. There are also competitions for young and less experienced players. Scheveningen, August 15 and 16. www.circuit.beachvolley.nl Listen to music among the trees The Hortus Festival of classical music, which takes place in the Netherlands' most beautiful gardens, features the music of Schumann, Chausson, Schoenberg, Listz and Mendelssohn. Among those taking part are the Hortus Ensemble and the Thalia Ensemble. Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam; De Oude Hortus, Utrecht; Hortus Botanicus, Leiden; Hortus Haren until August 30. www.hortusfestival.nl Have visions of the world For the exhibition Global Imaginations, Museum de Lakenhal in Leiden invited international artists to contribute a piece of work - existing or new - which shows their vision of our globalised world. The results range from large-scale installations and sculpture to video projections. Among the artist exhibiting are the Ghana Thinktank, which was founded in 2006 by Christopher Robbins, John Ewing and Matey Odonkor, with Monument to the Dutch (photo, 2015). Others taking part are Simryn Gill from Singapore, Mona Hatoum from Libanon and Dutch artist Marjolijn Dijkman. De Meelfabriek, Leiden until October 4. www.lakenhal.nl Shiver to a dark tale Dark Places is the second film adaptation of a novel by Gillian Flynn, following the success of Gone Girl. It mixes serial killings, satanic cults, true-crime obsessives and family secrets but comes up short of the tension of the first film. It does, however, offer twists and revelations, and it benefits from the strong performances of Charlize Theron and Chloe Grace Moretz. Theron plays Libby Day, whose surly attitude to life stems from the murder of her mother (Christina Hendricks) and her two sisters on their family farm when she was eight-years-old (played in the flashbacks by Sterling Jerins). Her brother, Ben, is in jail for the murder. It's coming up to 30 years after the crime and Libby accepts an invitation, in return for some much-needed cash, to talk about the case to the Kill Club, a group of true-crime enthusiasts led by local laundromat owner Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult). Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner tells this complex tale clearly while flashing back and forth between the past and the present. Disappointing, then, that the solution to what actually happened on that long ago night should be so implausible. Laugh at yourself Boom Chicago is celebrating 21 years of improvisation with 21 Years of Mockery. The programme is a mix of the comedians' favourite improvs and new scenes making fun of Dutch people, Americans and just about everything else. You shout out a subject and they will mock it. Check out the website for the evenings it is playing. Boom Chicago, Amsterdam until September 19. www.boomchicago.nl Visit some unusual music venues The Canal Festival of classical music takes place along the canals of Amsterdam in unusual places, such as hotels, churches and museums and on boats and in parks. It attracts an international line-up of musicians. This year, for instance, the Vespucci Quartet plays Debussy and Stravinsky on the Fort Island Pampus, and the Keuris Quartet are on the Vuurtoren (Lighthouse) Island playing Vaughan Williams and Tidrow. One of the highlights is the Prinsengracht Concert on August 22, which takes place on a pontoon across the Prinsengracht outside the Pulitzer Hotel. The soloist this year is the French pianist Alexandre Tharaud who headlines a programme of classical music, flamenco and French chansons. Compagnietheater and other locations, Amsterdam, August 14 to 23. www.grachtenfestival.nl Gasp at the tallness of men The Netherlands basketball team plays the Fighting Illini from the University of Illinois, one of America's top teams. The Dutch team have been making a come-back after a mediocre period between 1991 and 2012. Under coach Toon van Helfteren, they have been scoring some surprising victories. Topsportcentrum, Rotterdam, August 12. www.rotterdamtopsport.nl Chill out to Tchaikovsky Xian Zhang conducts the European Youth Orchestra in a programme of works by Tchaikovsky. It includes Rococo variations in A with Alisa Weilerstein on cello. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, August 13. www.concertgebouw.nl   For more suggestions of what to do in August and September visit the full What's On section.    More >


Science and technology still fail to attract Dutch female students

Science and technology still fail to attract Dutch female students

For all its innovative work in tech, engineering and the sciences, the Netherlands lags behind in encouraging women into these fields. Esther O’Toole talks to some of the women working to right the balance. Last month there was uproar in the international science community when Nobel Prize winning biochemist Tim Hunt stood up in front of a conference of science journalists in Seoul, South Korea and said: ‘Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.’ In the ensuing media storm, Dutch newspaper the Volkskrant said: ‘One thing is certain: Hunt’s remarks...touch on something bigger than himself. He unleashed a worldwide discussion over sexism and gender…in the sciences.’ Scientists In 2010, figures from Unesco showed the Netherlands had fewer female science graduates than any other country in the world. Though the representation varies across the different specialities and in some fields there are undoubtedly more women than in others, for a country that considers itself generally open-minded, egalitarian and educationally advanced, last place seems pretty damning. Dutch government figures show that since 2007, the number of girls opting for technical courses at havo secondary schools has risen from 15% to 26% and at pre-university vwo secondary schools from 20% to 38%. Around one in five girls now study technical subjects at vocational or hbo colleges. However, the number of female students taking technical courses at university has remained the same, at 26%. So progress is being made in the Netherlands but very slowly. There is a desperate need for more science and engineering graduates to fill the growing number of jobs in the science and technological fields, so why are girls and young women so reluctant to take up these subjects? Role models A study published by Northwestern University in the US at the beginning of May found that the Dutch were the most likely to associate the sciences with men and masculinity. The report concluded that this kind of ‘explicit’ stereotyping is an indicator of biased hiring and a lack of encouragement for girls towards engineering and the sciences. VHTO, a Dutch expert advocacy group for women in science, says self-confidence, fertility/lifestyle issues and the necessity to opt for specific study paths early in Dutch education are contributing factors to the problem. In addition, ‘it is hard to find female role models to guest lecture,' VHTO spokeswoman Masja Gielstra, said. The VHTO has now developed a database of nearly 2,000 female role models they can call upon. Together they conduct research, consult and organise programmes and events and work closely with the education ministry. The flagship programme is Girlsday which takes place nationwide every April. Female experts, coached by VHTO to effectively deal with different age groups, visit schools; specifically to introduce strong role models to girls. ‘We find it really important that they start at an early age,’ Gielstra added. Not only schools participate in Girlsday. This year over 10,000 girls aged 10-15 years visited a company or science centre and 310 companies threw open their doors for experiental workshops, giving girls an opportunity to see for themselves what working in these industries is like. 'Companies know that more diversity in their teams is good for productivity,’ Gielstra said. Real Chances One Dutch company which took part in Girlsday this year is engineering group Royal HaskoningDHV.  While women account for 47% of HR, communications and IT jobs, just 11% of technical staff are female. Environmental consultant Coco Smits studied environmental science at university and is keen to get more girls onto science and industrial engineering pathways. Assertiveness is essential in a company with multiple projects going on, she says,  but after a time your work will speak for itself. '‘Take the chances that come by, be visible and have a clear story of who you are and what you want to do,’ Smit says. That position is echoed by Annemarie Kin, an experienced Royal HaskoningDHV asset management advisor, who has worked there for 12 years and has four children. ‘It’s important to assess yourself again and again against development points,' she said. 'Where can I improve? What can I do for the company…there are real chances here.’ The VHTO does see the fruits of these kinds of partnerships between businesses, themselves, government bodies and educational establishments. Nevertheless, ‘we’re not there yet,' Gielstra says. 'It is vitally important that education and businesses keep working together in public-private partnership in the future, so that…the chances for girls in technology and IT remain clearly visible.’  More >


10 great things to do this week – August 3 – 9

10 great things to do this week – August 3 – 9

From watching films outdoors and checking out a huge market of hand-crafted items to admiring Matisse cutouts and steaming through the countryside, here's our pick of the week's best things to do. Catch Matisse while you still can Photo: Stedelijk Collection Don't miss the biggest collection ever exhibited in the Netherlands of the work of the French painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954), which has two weeks to run. In his paintings and cut-outs Matisse sought the most perfect possible union between shape and colour. He depicted Eastern nudes, colourful fabrics, carpets, potted plants and idyllic landscapes. Using its permanent collection, the Stedelijk also provides surprising combinations with the work of his contemporaries, teachers and followers, such as Monet, Van Gogh, Kirchner, Mondrian and Cézanne. At the heart of the exhibition is Matisse’s most popular work: The Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952-1953, photo). Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam until August 16. www.stedelijk.nl Take the bus to interesting theatre locations Festival Boulevard offers theatre and music performances at interesting locations indoors and outside throughout the picturesque city of Den Bosch. There are buses to take visitors to the locations. This year’s participants include the Belgian theatre company FC Bergman with the dialogue-free The Land Nod. Using slapstick, film and their physical style of theatre, they use the history of the art museum in Antwerp and its large collection of paintings by Rubens to tell their story. Elsewhere, theater-maker Boukje Schweigman creates a theatre experience called Curve using lighting, sound and architectural forms. Various locations, Den Bosch, August 6 to 16. www.festivalboulevard.nl Try out some good food The great marketplace - Grote Markt - in Haarlem plays host to 13 top class restaurants from the city and its surrounding areas for the annual Haarlem Culinair. From their stalls around the marketplace they serve small portions of their signature dishes for a reasonable price accompanied by an appropriate wine. There is also a craft beer market on the Saturday and Sunday of the festival. Haarlem is the capital city of Noord-Holland province and the buildings on the Grote Markt were built between the 15th and 17th century. Grote Markt, Haarlem, August 6 to 9. www.haarlemculinair.nl Change seats when the music stops The programme Musical Chairs is an opportunity to have a look around the Delft University of Technology while listening to classical music performances. For instance, there is Fauré's piano quartet nr 1 played by the Fauré Quartet in the botanic garden and Bach's solo for cello played by Jakob Koranyi at the Architecture Faculty. TU Delft, August 7. www.delftmusicfestival.nl Feel jealous of the younger generation Noah Baumbach's latest film is a sparkling comedy of inter-generational jealousy and midlife anxiety packed with wit and vigour. Ben Stiller, who was at the centre of Baumbach's Greenberg, plays Josh. He and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a childless couple in New York whose friends are all producing babies. When they befriend Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a young, loft-dwelling couple, they abandon their old friends in favour of doing fun stuff with their new best friends: attending 'street beach' parties and hip-hop exercise classes, bike riding and buying a hat. There is one sequence where Baumbach takes things too far when the foursome take hallucinogens under the guidance of a shaman and are encouraged to vomit out their demons. For the rest of the film Baumbach does what he does better than most: observe the manners and morals of the various demographic groups of the white, urban classes. Get cool with the DJs The Crazy Sexy Cool outdoor festival offers five stages: the main stage plus one each for eclectic, deep/tech house, Caribbean and UK garage/trap. Among those appearing are Billy the Kit, Vinny Jones, Contrasted, Isaac de Cuba and The Artful Dodger. Zuiderpark, Rotterdam, August 8. www.crazysexycoolfestival.com Steam through the countryside Take the steam tram from Hoorn station through the countryside and villages of Noord-Holland province to Enkhuizen. This local railway line was constructed in 1887 and is 20 km long. The tram has a fireman to shovel the coal into the firebox and wooden seats in its carriages. The engine whistles, the wheels sing and the steam hisses. In Enkhuizen, the journey continues to Medemblik on an old-fashioned steamer with a saloon deck which sails along the coast of the IJsselmeer lake. Museum Steam Tram, Hoorn until August 31. www.museumstoomtram.nl/en Watch films outdoors Out on an old pier in what was once the western port area of Amsterdam is a big screen and rows of deckchairs ready for the evening showing of a film not previously seen in the Netherlands. It's the festival Pluk de Nacht (seize the night) which offers a different film each evening. Many of them are in foreign languages with Dutch subtitles, but for those with limited Dutch there are two English language films. The Wolfpack about a family of brothers locked away in their apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan who learn about the world from watching and re-enacting films (August 12). Sam Klemke's Time Machine is Klemke's 30 years worth of videoed New Year messages cut by director Matthew Bate with an old documentary about the space shuttle Voyager (August 14). The festival terrain is about five minutes walk from Amsterdam central station and offers an arts programme and food and drink. Stenen Hoofd, Amsterdam, August 5 to 15. www.plukdenacht.nl Thrill to the young Mendelssohn The closing night of the Delft Chamber Music Festival features the piano quartet nr 3 by the young Mendelssohn and the string quintet by the Russian composer Georgy Catoire. The performers are the violinist Liza Ferschtman (photo), viola player Marc Desmons, the cellists Jakob Koranyi and Danjulo Ishizaka and the Fauré Quartet. Museum Prinsenhof, Delft, August 9. www.delftmusicfestival.nl Buy some hand-made items The Swan Market bills itself as a lifestyle event. It is a large market with mainly hand-made items such as jewellery, accessories, art, design, fashion and vintage. There is also a food market with street food trucks offering a wide variety of things to eat and drink, and a stage with live music ranging from folk to funk and soul. Vredenburg, Utrecht, August 9. www.swanmarket.nl  More >


Buy-to-let mortgages in the Netherlands (third party content)

Buy-to-let mortgages in the Netherlands (third party content)

In some countries buying property to rent out is a popular investment. So what is the situation in the Netherlands? Henk van Seijen of financial advisory group Finsens has the low-down. Expats often come to us asking whether it would be possible for them to purchase a apartment to rent out. This is because apartments and residences in the large Dutch cities are considered an interesting investment. In addition to rental income, the properties also go up in value. Obviously these properties may be purchased with private cash. But recently, taking out a mortgage has become an option. On behalf of the expat community, we have investigated the requirements. Expats must have spent at least three years living and working in the Netherlands. Their minimum gross income should be €45,000 per year and they must have EU nationality. Another significant detail is that private cash is required at all times. The bank will expect buyers to invest roughly 40% of the purchase price from their own resources. Provided the above conditions are met, it is possible to request a mortgage. The bank will set yet a few more conditions regarding (the rental of) the apartment. For instance, you will need to have a permanent tenant. Short term rentals via AirBnB and the like are not allowed. Cities The bank will only finance apartments and residences located in large cities because the risk that they will become vacant is low. Up to 50% of the value of the property can be paid off (with a maximum period of 30 years). If the mortgage is higher, then this part of the mortgage needs to be repaid over 10 years. In addition, the rental income on the property needs to exceed the interest and repayment in the first year. The tax consequences are as follows: you will have to pay 1.2% levy on the value of the apartment less the mortgage. This is the box 3 levy in terms of income tax. If you would like to find out more about buy-to-let mortgages, please feel free to contact our team at info@finsens.nl or 020-6234447. Henk van Seijen is a partner at Finsens, specialists in rendering services to expats in the areas of tax, mortgages and investment advice.  More >


How to plan a cycling city: university summer school course is a big draw

How to plan a cycling city: university summer school course is a big draw

Amsterdam is known the world over for its bikes and its cycling population. Esther O’Toole visits a unique summer course at the University of Amsterdam that seeks to give students insight into the world of Dutch cycling. The University of Amsterdam has been running summer courses for nearly 20 years. However, this is the first time that they have run a Planning the Cycling City course, which looks at the history, policy, infrastructure, planning, and culture of urban cycling in the Netherlands. Amsterdam is the world’s cycling capital, so you would think that it would be obvious that folks from abroad should want to look into the reasons behind the thriving ‘on yer bike’ lifestyle of the Dutch. For the Dutch though, for whom cycling is as natural as breathing, that interest is not so immediately apparent. As Mirjam Schieveld, the programme director at the Graduate School of Social Sciences summer programmes office, explains: ‘For us it’s a lot like being fish in a bowl. We’re used to it. Lots of visiting students come to do research here though and many chose to look at cycling in Holland. So that’s where the idea for this course came from.’ Popularity According to 2014 figures from the World Health Organisation, one-third of trips made in Amsterdam are by bike, by far the highest percentage in Europe. The WHO report estimates 1,600 jobs are connected with cycling in Amsterdam - from bicycle retail and maintenance, the provision of clothing and accessories for cyclists, urban development and developing new mobility schemes. Last year, the city council agreed to spend €120m in improving facilities for cyclists, of which €90m will be spent on 40,000 new bike parking places. The city's current bike path network is under pressure and efforts are being made to find new ways to cope with the sheer number of cyclists and bikes. No wonder, then, that the cycling city course has proven enormously popular and all 30 places were quickly taken. The university has already confirmed the course will be back in 2016. Status Brett Petzer, 29, an urban planning masters student from Cape Town, South Africa, was particularly interested in the cycling culture here. Back home, he says, cycling is intrinsically linked to status. In South Africa ‘captive cyclists’ are the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, having to use bikes by necessity. The middle class, by contrast, can afford to live within cycling distance of city centres and go biking for leisure. As such bikes become a status symbol. ‘When I come here it’s a different universe. I’m really interested to find out how cycling is linked to Dutch identity.’ Petzer said. Context By contrast, Cosmin Popan, 34, originally from Romania but studying for his PhD at Lancaster University in the UK, wants to use his social science background to shake up urban planning. He’s determined that cycling should be looked at in a broader context. ‘Often cycling is looked at very narrowly,' he says. 'I want to know what other things make people choose it other than economics and time efficiency. Too often planners and engineers have the last word and I think that needs to be challenged.’ Other students, such as Marin Hara, a 22 year old undergraduate from Tokyo, Japan,  is simply ‘looking for inspiration’ for the next phase of her studies. ‘Everyone is super passionate. I’m really impressed,’ she says. Dynamics In the first days of the course students have started to get a tangible feel for the subject with a hectic ride from their residence to class and ‘rush hour’ observations outside Amstel station. In the days to they will look at system’s dynamics, land use, network analysis and public space in relation to cycling. The UvA's summer courses are a chance for the university to both promote itself on the global academic stage and to give those visiting a good idea of what it’s like to live and study here. Many return to take up full time places on other courses as a result. There has traditionally been an emphasis on including subjects that the Dutch have a particularly strong record in with topics such as Sexuality & Politics (sodomy laws were first repealed here in 1811 and Drugs Policy & Addiction Management (soft drug legislation first came into effect in the 70’s). Cycling course leader Marco te Brӧmmelstroet issued a disclaimer at the outset telling participants not to ‘expect a silver bullet’. There is no one solution for them to take home and apply to their own cities, he said. Cycling in the Netherlands has been an evolution ‘There was no plan, no cycling advocacy groups; it came piecemeal in the beginning,' he told his students. There was also a warning – once the course has been completed, Te Brӧmmelstroet said, you will never look at cycling the same way again. UvA summer school courses  More >


10 things you need to know about Vincent van Gogh

On July 29, it is 125 years since master painter Vincent van Gogh shot himself in France. Here’s a list of facts about Van Gogh which you can drop into the conversation and become an instant expert. 1 Van Gogh was a post impressionist Van Gogh is ranked among the post impressionists. Typical of the period, roughly between 1885 and 1905, were a bold use of colour and dark contour lines, both of which are evident in his work, especially in his French paintings. Other post impressionists include Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne and George Seurat. 2 He did sell a painting Contrary to popular belief Van Gogh did sell work in his lifetime. It was ‘La Vigne Rouge’ (1888) which was shown in an exhibition of Les XX in Brussels and sold for 400 francs to Belgian artist Anna Boch (of Villeroy & Boch fame). The painting, of a vineyard near Arles, ended up in a collection in Russia which was seized by Stalin in 1918. It is now in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The red and yellow leaves of the vines led experts to believe that the phylloxera that had plagued French vineyards for decades had reached epidemic proportions. 3 He was close to his brother Vincent’s younger brother Theo was his mainstay and protector. The two were very close as their voluminous correspondence shows. When Vincent died, Theo suffered a complete breakdown. His body and mind were being destroyed by syphilis, a disease which also affected Vincent, and he deteriorated quickly. He spent the rest of his life in an asylum and died in 1891, aged 33. Theo’s wife Jo van Gogh-Bongerd later buried him next to his brother. ‘They rest together in the small cemetery between the corn fields in Auvers’, she wrote. 4 The mystery of the ear It is not quite clear how Vincent lost part of his ear. He may have lopped it off himself in a fit of madness, but it could also have been his friend Paul Gauguin’s doing: the two had a stormy relationship. The story goes that when Van Gogh prevented Gauguin from leaving the house in Arles, Gauguin drew his sabre and caught Van Gogh’s ear. The two then decided not to say anything about it. There’s a letter to Gauguin in which Van Gogh writes: ‘You remain quiet, I shall too’. 5 Was it suicide? In July 1890, Van Gogh shot himself and died a few days later on July 29. In 2011, American scholars came up with the theory that Van Gogh had been shot by one of two teenagers who had been harassing him for some time. The artist had supposedly kept quiet about it. Stories about the shooting had been doing the rounds in Auvers, they claimed, and the wound was too messy for a suicide. Moreover, Vincent didn’t leave a suicide note. The theory was dismissed by experts who said the wound showed powder marks which meant the gun was fired from up close, presumably by Vincent himself. 6 The most expensive painting The highest amount of money ever paid for a Van Gogh (up to now) is $82.5 million (€65.8 million). Portrait of Dr Gachet (1890) was sold in 1990 to Ryoei Saito, a Japanese paper manufacturer who snapped it up within three minutes of the auction kicking off. In 2014, Van Gogh’s Vase with Red Poppies (1886) was sold to an unknown buyer by Sotheby’s for $61.8 million dollars. The latest painting to change hands is L’Allée des Alyscamps which went for $66.3 million (almost €60 million) in May 2015. 7 Lost Van Goghs Six Van Goghs were destroyed by fire, 85 are lost, and three were stolen and haven’t been recovered, among them Poppy Flowers (1878) which was stolen twice from the Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, Egypt. It was stolen for the first time in June 1997, recovered 10 years later in Kuwait and stolen again in 2010. It hasn’t been seen since. All in all, there are over 2,000 known works by Van Gogh but the number grows: in 2013 curators in Amsterdam authenticated a ‘new’ Van Gogh, Sunset at Montmajour (1888). 8 Vincent in love Vincent never married but as far as we know he did fall in love a couple of times. His first love was Caroline Haanebeek who was a friend of the family. Nothing came of it and she married someone else. In London, Vincent fell head over heels in love with the 19-year-old daughter of his landlord, Eugenie Loyer, who didn’t want him either. In 1881 he found himself once more living at his parents’ house in Etten. During this time he fell in love with his cousin, Kee Vos. His parents disapproved, as he wrote in a letter to Theo: ‘Mother and father say She will tell you no, never, so don’t say a word.’ He asked Theo to put in a good word with his parents and explain that ‘to work and become an artist one needs love’. His parents were right, however: Kee wouldn’t have him. In The Hague, Vincent met prostitute Sien Hoornik and the two lived together for eighteen months. The relationship shocked his relatives and as numerous fights cooled his initial zeal to redeem a lost soul, the affair quickly ran its course. In 1883, Vincent met Margot Begeman who lived next door to his parents in Nuenen and who was twelve years his senior. They fell in love but once again his parents conspired against the match. Begeman tried to commit suicide in 1884 when the relationship came to an end. 9 Absinthe Absinthe, also known as the Green Fairy, is supposed to give the drinker a heightened sense of colour and is said to account for some of the vivid yellow in Van Gogh’s paintings. This is by no means the only – or most fanciful – report of the effects of his health on his painting: he is also rumoured to have suffered from lead poisoning which may have caused him to see the kind of halos he painted in The Starry Night. 10 Fading colours In 2014, Dr Ella Hendricks, head of conservation at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, found that the colours in a number of Van Gogh’s paintings are fading because of too much UV light. The amount of light at the museum has now been reduced. Restorers are now looking to the vivid descriptions of colours in his letters to help them decide what they originally looked like.  More >


10 great things to do this week – July 27-August 2

10 great things to do this week – July 27-August 2

From a tiny superhero and iron men to floating flowers and vintage cars, here’s our pick of the week’s best things to do. Check out the competitions Sneek Week is a week of races on the lake of the Frisian town of Sneek. There are competitions for boats and catamarans in all classes, including Falcons, Rainbows and Ynglings. Among the races is the final of the championship for the typical Frisian sailing boats known as skütjes. Elsewhere in the town the entertainment includes street theatre, live music in cafes and outdoors, parades and a sand sculpture festival. Sneek, July 31 to August 9. www.sneekweek.nl Hie over to Haydn The French string quartet Zaïde was formed five years ago and the young women won first prize at the Haydn Competition in Vienna in 2012. They play Haydn's first string quartet at this concert, but also works by Mendelssohn and Debussy. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, July 28. www.concertgebouw.nl Discover where your style comes from A major retrospective of the Rijksmuseum's rich collection of costume and fashion prints showing the change in women's and men's fashion from the year 1600 up to and including the first half of the 20th century. The 300 prints trace the development of the fashion magazine into the fashion glossies of the present era. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam until September 27. www.rijksmuseum.nl Watch a tiny superhero Having exploited all its best known superheroes, Marvel turns to one of its lesser known and smallest characters. However, putting Ant-Man (directed by Peyton Reed) on the big screen proves more problematic than is the case with Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and Captain America. The story has Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a burglar just released from prison for stealing from corporate crooks, agree to one last heist. Behind the heist is Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), an aging scientist who wants the younger man to take up his mantle as Ant-Man, a superhero with a special suit that shrinks him to the size of an insect. Once Ant-Man has mastered the use of the suit, the heist is on. Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is close to replicating Pym's shrinking technology which he wants for nefarious reasons. Ant-Man must infiltrate Cross's stronghold and steal back the technology. Ant-Man does have its moments of humour and emotion and the effects used for the miniaturised scenes are astounding. The final confrontation between Ant-Man and Cross, for instance, takes place on a tabletop toy railway. Rudd is fine as the straight guy who must get to grips with shrink-ray technology and transition into a hero, although he could have used some help from the script in the humour department. And Douglas has a whale of a time with the role of Pym. However, Ant-Man lacks the action spectacle of earlier Marvel films - perhaps because an ant army is less impressive than a full-size man with a magic shield or hammer. Cheer on the iron men Hundreds of athletes from around the world and ranging in age from 18 to 80 take on the challenge of the triathlon. The 2.4 mile swim is in the river Maas and goes under the Provincial Government Building, which is partly built over the river. The 112 mile bike course follows the same course as the yearly Amstel Gold Race, with the Cauberg Hill in Valkenburg as the make-or-break feature. This is followed by a full 26.2 mile marathon run which takes in the Sint Pieter Hill in Maastricht and the Jeker valley (Jekerdal). The finish line will be in the historic city centre of Maastricht on the square in front of City Hall. Ironman Maastricht offers 50 qualifying slots for the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaiï. Maastricht, August 2. www.ironman.com Hum along to a favourite musical There is a new Dutch production of The Sound of Music to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, and it is the best stage version for some time in any language. It stars Anouk Maas as Maria and Ad Knippels as Captain Von Trapp. Theater Carré, Amsterdam, July 29 to August 23. www.theatercarre.nl Westland flower parade Most flower parades take place on motorised vehicles. But not in the Westland region of the Netherlands. Here the floats literally float. There are 50 of them covered with 450,000 flowers, 120,000 plants and 80,000 various vegetables and fruit. They sail away from the Trade Parc Westland in Naaldwijk and visit Delft, Maassluis, Midden-Delfland and The Hague over the three days of the event. Naaldwijk, July 31, August 1 and 2. www.varendcorso.nl Admire some old-timers The National Old Timers Festival features a wide selection of classic and vintage racing and sports cars which can be admired in the paddock or on the track during the demonstrations. The day also includes one paddock full of old and new Porsches and one with the best of British racing cars. Circuit, Zandvoort, August 2. www.circuit-zandvoort.nl Listen to chamber music in beautiful locations Each year some of the world's best musicians gather in Delft to play chamber music in unusual combinations. This year such luminaries as the Doric String Quartet, violinist Liza Ferschtman (photo), cellist Konstantin Heidrich, Cappella Amsterdam and bass-baritone Robert Holl perform music by composers ranging from Bach to Kalevi Aho, Haydn to Hindemith and Mozart to John Tavener. Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft until August 9. www.delftmusicfestival.nl Get passionate about flamenco Alfonso Losa dances flamenco accompanied by his company which includes the singers La Fabi and El Zambuyo. Losa is recognised throughout the flamenco scene as one of the absolute talents of the current generation. He is a highly inspired dancer with an energetic and expressive style, who has modernised flamenco without ignoring its traditions. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, August 1. www.concertgebouw.nl    More >


Amsterdam gets ready to celebrate Gay Pride

Amsterdam gets ready to celebrate Gay Pride

Some 350,000 people are expected in Amsterdam over the coming week to celebrate Gay Pride. Brandon Hartley looks back at the event's history and what you can expect during the week long 2015 edition The annual celebration of gay, lesbian, and transgender culture first took place in Amsterdam in 1996. Since then, it’s become one of the city’s most popular summertime jubilees. In its early days, the annual extravaganza was a bit smaller and a little wilder than it is now. Organisers have made efforts to tone down the amount of nudity in recent years during popular events like the colossal canal parade in order to make the celebration more family-friendly and accessible for a wider audience. Gay Pride was originally launched to help strengthen the city’s gay friendly image while also drawing attention to important issues that impact citizens in the Netherlands and other nations around the world. Today it features an extensive programme of events ranging from parties to film screenings and museum exhibitions. Over 350,000 visitors flood into the city for the celebration every year, making it one of the largest annual Gay Pride events in the world. Not Just a Party While many attendees go to Amsterdam Gay Pride to dance and have fun, it also serves as a reminder that there’s still much to be done for gay communities both here and abroad. ‘In terms of LGBT rights a huge amount has been achieved,’ Peter de Ruijter, chairman of gay rights lobby group COC told DutchNews.nl. ‘[Our] focus in the Netherlands is now on acceptance in daily life, in schools, sports clubs, amongst seniors and by religious groups. A lot of effort by many people, initiatives and organisations is aimed at raising awareness and improving acceptance through lectures, discussions, and organising activities around (LGBT) diversity.’ The canal parade The crown jewel in Amsterdam Gay Pride’s annual programme is definitely the canal parade. This year’s edition is scheduled to take place on Saturday, 1 August. Tens of thousands of spectators line up along the parade route to watch dozens of barges sail down the Prinsengracht and along the Amstel River. Many feature vibrant decorations and dancers in elaborate costumes, DJs, and sound systems powerful enough to shake nearby windows and set off car alarms. In prior editions, the boats have been sponsored by Dutch corporations and even local politicians sometimes hop aboard them to ‘shake their groove thing’. An increasingly diverse array have appeared in recent years. The 2013 parade included a boat sponsored by the Dutch football association and featured an appearance by the the then manager Louis van Gaal. He even danced. Well, a little bit. Pridestream Can’t make it to the parade this year? You can still attend virtually via Pridestream. This innovative project will send an ‘empty’ boat down the waterways of Amsterdam but that doesn’t mean that they’re won’t be anybody on it. Thousands of people around the world will climb aboard by logging on to Pridestream’s website. The boat, which is equipped with cameras, will offer virtual attendees a 360-degree panoramic view of the celebration. Meanwhile, those along the parade route will be able to view video messages on its large screens that have been submitted by people from all around the world. For many of them, it’s not possible to celebrate Gay Pride events in their native countries. Pridestream will allow them to do so via the internet without fear of reprisals from government officials and others. Gay Pride 2015 ‘We have 160 events during the nine days of our festivals,’ AGP spokesman Danny de Vries told DutchNews.nl. ‘Sports, arts & culture, debates, parties, etc. For everyone there is something to do.’ The full lineup can be found on AGP’s official website. For those in search of an event that’s sure to be lighthearted and silly, there’s the International Drag Queen Olympics. It features events including the handbag discus and the 100 metre stiletto sprint in addition to fashion competitions. The 11th annual games will begin at 19:00 on 31 July at the Homomonument in the Westermarkt.  More >


Leeuwarden prepares to be Europe’s capital of culture – in 2018

Leeuwarden prepares to be Europe’s capital of culture – in 2018

When Leeuwarden won the Dutch bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2018, the Frisian flag was hung from the tower of the Westerkerk church in Amsterdam’s historic centre in celebration. The Frisian capital had an outsider chance of beating much bigger cities like Maastricht and Eindhoven to host the ECC 2018, but it also had a couple of secret weapons. Firstly, its Mienskip, the Frisian community itself. The Leeuwarden-Fryslân bid didn’t spend huge amounts on advertising agencies to develop a publicity campaign, but looked to its own residents to come up with their own ideas and initiatives. Secondly, it is keeping costs down to a modest €74m. The city is not planning to build massive hotels to accommodate the extra visitors. Empty farms, schools and churches will be revamped to take in the extra influx. And thirdly, the city is planning well beyond 2018 to make sure the legacy doesn’t end up being a white elephant. Many of the projects would have been carried out if Leeuwarden hadn’t won the bid. However, the fact that it has is a tremendous impulse. Liverpool Leeuwarden’s prime example is Liverpool which held the title of European Capital of Culture in 2008. In the 1980s, this once magnificent metropole was being run down as part of the then prime minister Margret Thatcher’s policy of 'managed decline'. Thirty years later on, the city on the Mersey has been transformed into a bustling hub. In 2008, an extra nine million tourists spent an extra one million pounds. And day trippers have been flocking to the city ever since. Leeuwarden hopes to emulate that effect, attracting as many as three million additional visitors to the Netherlands’ northernmost province. At the same time, it hopes the event will be an economic boost to the whole region. Talent In spite of its pretty medieval streets, you cannot help noticing the odd empty shop window in this fortified city. Leeuwarden loses many of its young people to other Dutch cities and finding work is a problem. But that could be about to change. Talented creatives are trained at the Academy for Pop Culture to turn their interests into thriving start-ups. International students are being attracted to the brand new European Institute for Water Technology. The cells of former prison complex De Blokhuispoort now house offices and studios for creative entrepreneurs. The forbidding old prison has also become a venue for upcoming local talent organised by Podium Asteriks, which began as a bottom-up initiative five years ago. In fact, it is striking how the young people involved in the 2018 projects feel responsibility for their part in the preparations. Everyone, from marketing staff to festival organisers are quick to say 'We are responsible for the European Capital of Culture in 2018'. Festivals Take Welcome to the Village which began as a local initiative with young enthusiasts setting up their own 3-day festival. “The village is central to how we set up the festival, it’s a metaphore for society in general, where everyone has a part to play,” says Koen Haringa of the festival’s management team. Two years on, the organisation has professionalised with an impressive line-up and 6000 visitors. Nevertheless it is still very much a self-made event relying on its 500 volunteers. Construction work is also underway on Neushoorn (rhino), which will not be just another pop podium. This cultural centre may have been funded by the local municipality, but that is where interference from the authorities ends. Programming, running and use has been handed over to Leeuwarden’s bright minds. On their white board it says 'Avoid the P-word' at the top followed by a whole load of synonyms for the word podium. Province-wide In 2018, events will be held throughout the province and far beyond. The 11 cities 240-km skating marathon has become famous throughout the world even though the winters in which it is held are few and far between. It is major events like this that demonstrate Friesland’s potential to rally its community quickly. A unique fountain will be designed for each of the 11 cities. In Leeuwarden, a fountain entitled Love by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa will consist of two huge heads of a boy and a girl in the mist, inspired by the mist that hangs over Frisian fields at dawn. Local residents of all ages and walks of life are enthusiastic about what is happening. It’s a far cry from the local football club motto 'It has never been anything and it never will be.' Perhaps after 2018, Cambuur fans will chant 'You’ll never walk alone', which festival director Ton van Dijk translates into Fries as 'De mienskip moat it dwaan.'  More >


10 great things to do this week – July 20-26

From glossy dogs and live works of art to artists' muses and thousands of walkers, here’s our pick of the week’s best things to do. Watch a live work of art A major survey of the work of the German-British artist Tino Sehgal unfolds in 12 chapters and 12 different rooms in the Stedelijk Museum throughout the year. This week the live artwork is Yet Untitled (2013), performed by three of his 'interpreters'. They produce music using a combination of amateur beat box and short phrases extracted from pop songs. The work is on the first floor of the museum. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam until July 31. The survey continues until December 31. www.stedelijk.nl Experience visualised emotions The latest offering from Pixar is this beautifully animated tale of what goes on inside the head of an 11-year-old girl. The exterior story is simple. Young Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) has an idyllic life in rural Minnesota but is uprooted when her parents move to downtown San Francisco. The interior story is much more complex, with five main emotions at a space-age Headquarters directing Riley in the decisions she takes. There is excitement as characters race to catch the Train of Thought, and fun for adults as characters get to Imagination Land by cutting through Abstract Thought where they are turned into first Cubist and then flat 2D figures. Directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc and Up), it is a joyous and thought-provoking look at how Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) are both necessary for a fully-rounded life. Thrill to a master pianist The Belgian jazz and classical pianist and composer Jef Neve, who played on the soundtrack of the 2011 Oscar-winning film The Artist, plays a solo concert of works from his album, One. British newspaper The Guardian called his playing 'a very personal language, one which draws freely on classical music and has the impetus of jazz and rock'. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, July 24. www.concertgebouw.nl Cheer on the walkers The Four-Day Walk in Nijmegen (Nijmeegse Vierdaagse) is the world's largest walking event. It began in 1909 and has been based in Nijmegen since 1916. It was originally a military event, but these days about 5,000 of the over 40,000 walkers are from the military. Participants walk 30, 40 or 50 kilometres each day, depending on age group and category. Each day the route goes through a different town around Nijmegen, taking in Elst, Wijchen, Groesbeek and Cuijk. On Friday, as the walkers near the finish, the crowds along the route award the walkers with gladioli, a symbol of force and victory since Roman times, when gladiators were showered with these flowers. The entry into the city to the finish line, the St. Annastraat, is renamed the Via Gladiola for the occasion. Nijmegen, July 21 to 24. www.4daagse.nl Hear voices in total harmony The British a capella group The King's Singers usually combine Renaissance music with popular songs. For this concert they are concentrating on the American Songbook with numbers by composers such as Gershwin, Porter and Rodgers. The King's Singers were formed in 1969 by six choral scholars from King's College in Cambridge. Over the years, they added popular songs to their repertoire bringing them to a wider audience. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, July 23. www.concertgebouw.nl Oooh and aaah over dogs Over 2400 dogs of all breeds gather to be judged Best in Breed and Best in Show by expert judges. There are also competitons for best puppy and best older dog. Ahoy, Rotterdam, July 25 and 26. www.dogshowrotterdam.nl Sit outdoors for Shakespeare The Bos Theater and the Noord Nederlands Toneel have joined forces for this summer's production in the amphitheatre in the Amsterdam Bos. They present a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Benedick and Beatrice, Claudio and Hero sort out their misunderstandings on a deserted car park where a van selling french fries provides the only comfort. The production is in Dutch but the story is so well-known and the surroundings of tall trees so beguiling, it is worth a visit. There is also lots of music by Eef van Been and four other musicians. If the weather is dodgy, check the website to find out if the performance is going ahead. Bos Theater, Amsterdam, July 21 to September 5. www.bostheater.nl Discover a little-known artist Groningen printer and artist HN Werkman (1882-1945) was executed just before the end of World War II on April 10 1945 by a Nazi firing squad. The reason for his death has not yet been established. This major retrospective presents his prints and paintings, experimental printed matter and his work for De Blauwe Schuit magazine during the war. It shows his development as an artist and how he brought his own ideas to the terms Abstract and Figurative. There are also letters, portraits, photos and family prints showing the times in which he lived. Groninger Museum, Groningen until November 1. www.groningermuseum.nl Get inspired by muses The summer exhibition O MUSE! focuses on the men and women who were an important source of inspiration for Dutch artists from 1850 onwards. Paintings, photographs, video works and sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries are on display, complemented by notable contemporary examples. The works highlight different sources of inspiration: lovers, nude models, colleagues, writers, biblical characters, doppelgängers and stage stars. Among the exhibits are works by artists ranging from Kees van Dongen, Isaac Israels, Jan Sluijters and Carel Willink to Gijs Frieling, Pavèl van Houten and Manon de Boer. De Hallen, Haarlem until August 30. www.dehallen.nl Pity poor Shylock Polly Findlay's take on Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice at the RSC brings out the love between Antonio and Bassanio much more frankly than is usually the case. The cast includes Makram J Khoury as a touching Shylock and Patsy Ferron, so good in Treasure Island, as Portia. It is broadcast live from Stratford upon Avon. Pathé cinemas, Amsterdam, The Hague, July 22. www.pathe.nl   More >


A white-tailed eagle’s view of Gelderland

A white-tailed eagle’s view of Gelderland

A six minute video shot by a miniature camera and showing the flight of a white-tailed sea eagle over Gelderland is a new internet hit. The trained bird was taken into the sky by hot hair balloon and released at a height of 700 metres to fly back to falconer Gerard van den Brink. During the flight, which covers a couple of kilometres, the bird glides over Barneveldt and the A1 and A30 motorways before dropping sharply to meet Van den Brink. White-tailed eagles are among the biggest birds in the world with wingspans of up to 2.5 metres.   More >


11 Dutch islands where you can get away from it all

11 Dutch islands where you can get away from it all

Looking for an island escape, but no time or money to head to the Caribbean?  If you aren’t too fussed about getting a tan, why not head to a Dutch island.  Fresh air, cycle paths, nature and long beaches – and most of the Dutch islands are only a short ferry ride away. Pampus: an artificial island constructed in the late 19th century in the IJmeer lake, close to Amsterdam.  One of four forts commissioned as part of the Stelling van Amsterdam (Defence Line of Amsterdam), it had the capacity to accommodate 200 men but was only fully utilised during WWI. The Wadden Islands Terschelling:  with approximately 20,000 tourist beds, Terschelling is the largest and most visited Wadden Island.  Head west from the main town centre of West Terschelling to experience untamed nature and long white beaches.  In June, the island hosts the 10-day Oerol festival, attracting many visitors to the art and theatre performances taking place across the island. Vlieland: smaller, less densely populated than the neighbouring islands, yet only 90 minutes by ferry from Harlingen in Friesland. Vlieland entices visitors with its serenity and nature, extensive network of cycle paths, and the promise of 20% more sunny days than the mainland. Texel: boasting 24kms of beaches and easy to reach via ferry from Den Helder, Texel is also famous for its lamb.  All year, visitors can cycle around the island taking in the nature and stopping at one of the seven villages to refuel. Ameland:  hosts a human population of around 3,500, an estimated 60 types of birds and copious flora species.  In 1871, attempts were made to build a dyke between the island and the mainland.  The 8.7km dyke lacked durability and was destroyed by storms the following year, leaving remains that can be seen at low tide. Schiermonnikoog:  the name of the island translates as ‘island of grey monks’, referring to the original owners who were forced to hand over the island during the Dutch Reformation. This was followed by 500 years of invasion, occupation and serious storm damage – until the island was turned into a national park in 1989.  Voted the prettiest place in the Netherlands by the Dutch, Schiermonnikoog can be reached via ferry from Lauwersoog.  See also Nine National Parks The Frisian Islands Griend: this uninhabited small island, 12km south of Terschelling, has the largest colony of Sandwich terns (birds).  In the Middle Ages a colony of monks also lived in the walled monastery on the island. Rottumerplaat: not accessible to ordinary humans, Rottumerplaat is a zone restricted to resting and foraging for the numerous bird species who live on the island and is the northernmost part of the Netherlands. Rottumerplaat is notorious in literary circles as being the place that spawned two extremely different novels based on the individual experiences of the two authors (Jan Wolkers and Godfried Bomans) who spent a solitary week on the island in 1971. Rottumeroog: uninhabited and under threat of disappearing into the Ems estuary due to changing sea currents. Zuiderduintjes: a small island providing sanctuary to birds and seals, but inaccessible to humans. Rif: with an area of less than 0.1 square kilometres, this bump in the water lies between Ameland and Schiermonnikoog. Yes, we know. We have not included the Dutch Caribbean islands – that’s a different story. And Urk, Marken and all the rest of the islands which have been attached to the mainland don’t count.  But if we’ve forgotten any significant pieces of land surrounded by water, please do let us know.  More >


Looking for a quick getaway? Here’s some quirky Dutch options

Looking for a quick getaway? Here’s some quirky Dutch options

So, the long Dutch summer vacation is nearly upon us and that means time to seek adventure, relax in luxury after a hard quarter or spend some quality time with loved ones. If you have been too disorganised or cash strapped to book something so far, but can’t stand the idea of a crowded campsite or bog standard chalet holiday, then Esther O'Toole has found some quick and quirky Dutch options to inspire you. Urban Campsite, IJburg, Amsterdam This unusual initiative is now in its second year. Part open air art installation, part camping experience, Urban Campsite touts itself as a chance to get some new perspective on city life in a surprisingly quiet spot just outside the centre of town. Handcrafted wooden cabins, sit alongside tepee-esque tents and even a bottle! The message in it – you. Not all the accommodation is suited to families so do ask when booking. It’s a little rough and ready in its finish but you certainly feel out in the wilds. There is a communal fire pit with comfy benches and workshops with the artists, all very ‘gezellig’. The well-known café/bar, Blijburg, is just next door. Though it’s not quite back up to speed since its recent move, the beach has been renewed and is ready for the summer season; there are bins, toilets, a snack bar and swimming area. What’s more, the new location allows for fantastic views across the IJmeer towards Pampus Island and Durgerdam. Open June, July and August. Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy, Amsterdam One for culture lovers who want to be able to get into town easily, but are also after a more unusual holiday experience, would be the Lloyd Hotel. A very comfortable, up-market hotel with café/bar and an emphasis on design. It also acts as a ‘Cultural Embassy’, hosting events from book readings and cinema to theatre productions in the rooms! Definitely big enough for families but also a great place if you’re looking to escape the children. Regular special offers include things like bike hire and picnics with champers as part of your booking. De Leeuw, Deventer Definitely one for with the kids, Hotel Hanzestadslogement or, ‘De Leeuw’ as it is commonly known, is a hotel with olde worlde sweet and tea shoppe (Weds-Sat). It boasts over 200 different types of traditional sweets, alongside other local delicacies. With its range of charming rooms and apartments the hotel can accommodate different size groups, all located in a beautiful 17th century building. You will find it right in the historic centre of Deventer. Kruisheren Hotel, Maastricht Venturing further south you can stop off in what the Huffington Post called a ‘one of a kind’ hotel, the Kruisheren. Originally a gothic church, this design hotel has over 60 rooms, each individually designed to combine the best of old and new, as well as a terrace in the 15th century cloister. Castles in the Netherlands If you’re looking for a really dreamy trip, why not check out one of the other fairy tale castles on Chateaus.nl run by the family Oostwegel. Ranging in size, price and facilities, these are mainly found in South Limburg and the Belgian border region. They promise luxury (with swimming pools and spas), wonderful countryside views and southern hospitality. Camp Silver, Texel If you’re looking to get way out of town and are in search of a memorable experience, you could try Camp Silver on Texel. Perhaps more for couples or small groups of friends than families, this is a real hideaway. With its beautiful, silver Airstream caravans and a Pacific Dome for breakfast/dining room, it promises rest and relaxation in the middle of a UNESCO heritage site and is under two hours drive from the capital. Camp Spirit, Veluwemeer Somewhere similarly remote but with more activities for the family is Camp Spirit. On an island in the Veluwemeer, just 45 minutes east of Amsterdam, Camp Spirit has a range of Yurts, Indian and Swedish tepees and Sahara tents. You can swim, do yoga and there are children’s and community activities laid on throughout the day. Bike & Barge In search of something more challenging? Well, nothing says Holland like bikes and barges so why not combine the two in a uniquely Dutch tour? Responsible Travel and Utracks both organise biking and barging holidays for individuals or families and pride themselves on working with small, local guides and travel partners.  More >


Start-ups are the rock bands of business, says Rockstart founder Oscar Kneppers

Start-ups are the rock bands of business, says Rockstart founder Oscar Kneppers

The start-up business is booming and fledgling Dutch firms are continuing to raise big money from private equity companies and investors. Robin Pascoe talks to Oscar Kneppers, founder of Rockstart, who has been at the heart of the Dutch start-up scene for five years. It is Thursday afternoon at Rockstart’s offices on Amsterdam’s Herengracht canal. The building, a merchant’s home built in 1722 and with a sweeping marble staircase, is buzzing. Four young men with beards are playing table football. In the lounge area small groups are huddled over laptops. English is their common tongue but they come from all over the globe. A gathering of older men in suits are drinking coffee. ‘There’s an event going on in the ballroom,’ says Oscar Kneppers, Rockstart’s founder, as he settles back in the squashy sofa overlooking the throng. It is five years since Kneppers returned from six months in the Spanish Pyrenees and decided to found Rockstart . His aim was to use the experience he had built up with two successful media ventures to encourage others to do the same. ‘I had twice started something from nothing and I did not want to do it again,’ says Kneppers. ‘I decided to help others start up instead. As for the name, well, start-ups are the rock bands of business.’ Ambition Being involved in the start-up world these days is so achingly hip that it has almost become a cliché. Amsterdam city council has ambitions to become a ‘start-up capital’. The city is abuzz with initiatives and former European commissioner Neelie Kroes has taken up residence as the Dutch capital’s start-up ambassador. So, are start-ups so very 2015? Kneppers laughs. ‘It is a good thing we are an established company, not a new kid on the block,’ he says. ‘That helps us to remain true to our dna.’ For despite the big money success stories of recent years, start-up culture is not about getting rich quick, Knepper says. ‘For it to work, you have to be able to embrace risk. If you end up making money, great. But if you don’t, start again.’ Since 2010, the company has grown – it now has a workforce of 39 – and developed a distinct package of products: the start-up accelerator, the Rockstart Answers sessions and Rockstart Spaces. Cash and kind The accelerator programme is based on an investment fund set up by Kneppers and other investors, which puts money into the start-ups in terms of both cash and kind. It runs for 150 days during which the fledgling firms learn to develop their ideas, consult experts about anything from marketing to tech issues, and culminates in ‘demo day’ where the companies present themselves to the public and more potential investors. The second strand is the Rockstart Answers sessions in which a team of experts answers questions from start-up hopefuls and encourages them, to use a Rockstart mantra, to ‘stop talking and get going’. After taking the concept round the Netherlands, the first Rockstart Answers sessions are now taking place abroad. Kneppers recounts arriving at a hall in Portugal early one morning in June to find a group of youngsters already there in the ubiquitous black Rockstart t-shirts. ‘I guess about 60 people came which was amazing,’ he says. ‘We have a new, extended family. Start-up people speak the same language everywhere in the world. Everyone makes the same mistakes but they don’t have to be fatal. Whether you are a Russian bitcoin trading firm or a social enterprise, there is room for everyone. We want to unlock the start-up ecosystem everywhere. Rockstart is a great product. Let’s export it.’ So how does Kneppers define a start-up, given that companies with mega investments still wear the badge at times. ‘We say a company that is younger than 1,000 days,’ he says. ‘In the first two to three years, that’s when you face the specific challenges. A start-up is a small, experimental company taking big risks and working to find a repetitive business model.’ So far 58 start-ups have passed through the Rockstart school and, says Kneppers proudly, only four have failed. ‘We’ll check the balance sheet again in seven years,’ he says. ‘But if you consider eight out of 10 companies fail within three years, we’ve not got a bad record.’ Those making waves, known as alumni in Rockstart speak, include social lending platform Peerby and 3D Hubs, which now has an office in New York. So far more than three-quarters of Rockstart’s Web & Mobile Accelerator alumni have received post-programme follow-on funding from an international pool of investors totalling more than $17.5m. Competition This year, 40 companies will take part in the various accelerator programmes. Competition is intense and hundreds of companies applied to take part. Ten digital health enterprises are based at the new Rockstart operation in Nijmegen and 10 are slated for Singapore, where Rockstart has seeded its first foreign foray. In Singapore Rockstart has teamed up with local entrepreneur Chi Tran, former CTO of OgilvyOne in the region, who is now raising the Asian investment fund. ‘Singapore is a great hub,’ says Kneppers. ‘It’s close to so many other countries, it has a lot of money and it is well equipped to support start-ups.’ The aim is to open a second foreign branch in Colombia or elsewhere in central America so that the entire global timespan is covered. Kneppers is also working on a second Rockstart mission to Nepal – the first having completed just before the recent earthquake. A Rockstart team spent several weeks in the mountain kingdom working with local entrepreneurs, and brought the 10 local start-ups back to Amsterdam for their demo day. Other similar projects are also in the works. Energy ‘There was so much constructive energy,’ he says. ‘We’re trying to define a new sort of development work. Rockstart Impact is our karma project, to try to empower people.’ Karma may not be a word you would associate with the slick and polish of modern entrepreneurship but it is very much a Kneppers word. Bearded long before today’s hipsters, Kneppers is a sometimes vegetarian and a qualified yoga teacher – he leads 8am yoga sessions in the Rockstart ballroom once a week – rents his car out through Snappcar and is a devoted and involved family man. Society, he says, is changing. ‘Years ago, you would develop an idea, draw up a detailed business plan and go to a bank for funding which you would not get,’ he laughs. ‘You never hear the word bank here, apart from the fact that we work in a former bank building,’ Kneppers says, gesturing around him. ‘To the youngsters here, a bank is a functionality, it is something on a smart phone.’    More >


Pioneering Dutch enterprise sets out to put seaweed on the table

Pioneering Dutch enterprise sets out to put seaweed on the table

One enterprising Dutch firm is attempting to commercially farm seaweed and the initial results indicate it may be possible, writes Esther O’Toole. Do you eat seaweed? No? Are you sure? Only around sushi? Well, think again. Seaweed is found in many consumer products from ice cream and processed foods, to vitamin supplements, toothpaste, mascara and biofuel. What is more, being a sustainable crop, it reduces fresh water, land and fertilizer usage. This versatile and tasty resource is drawing a lot of interest in international agricultural circles, including one prominent Dutch enterprise, The North Sea Farm Foundation (Stichting Noordzee Boerderij). North Sea Farm have been testing the nutrient rich waters north of Texel, with a view to getting seaweed on more Dutch plates in the very near future. Initially set up by Marcel Schuttelaar, of Schuttelaar & Partners, the foundation launched a proof of concept mission last November. Using two different growing platforms (one static, one flexible) and two varieties of edible kelp, they set out with the purpose of discovering whether the rough North Sea was suitable for this kind of offshore agriculture. This month’s first successful harvest seems to indicate that it is. Having laid 10 metres of line in the hopes of growing one kilo of usable product, they ended up with 15 kilos. North Sea Farm's Koen van Swam says the partly crowdfunded project is now heading towards scaling up. The June crop is being independently tested for nutritional value and consumer safety and a second harvest is planned for October. Fishing industry Seaweed cultivation can work in harmony with both nature and existing offshore industries like fisheries, sea energy and conservation. The North Sea is a challenging spot to cultivate with waves that vary in size from one to a whopping six metres high, which can sometimes make access to the platforms difficult. However, unlike more sheltered European growing areas (for instance in Norway and The Shetlands), the North Sea offers real space to spread out. ‘This is really pioneering,’ said van Swam. ‘If we can grow it here, we can grow it anywhere!’ The seaweed industry, he says, offers the chance for entrepreneurs from many traditionally strong Dutch trades, such as maritime transport, fishing, mussel farming and agrofood, to collaborate. North Sea Farm expects to help create jobs and offer 'fantastic growth potential' for all partners across the supply chain. This year the global seaweed market for human consumption was estimated at nearly $6m. The Dutch government is conducting research of its own and has estimated there is scope for up to 400 square kilometres of seaweed fields off the Dutch north coast by 2050, with no discernible negative impact. Seaweed is regularly used by fish as a nursery, so the impact could in fact be a positive one. North Sea Farm is equally ambitious as it sets out to raise in the region of €400,000 for expansion, hoping the green initiative’s early success will encourage new investors. That amount would allow them to grow 5,000-10,000 kilos of seaweed by next season. And to make sure the Dutch consumers know what to do with this superfood, they are also working on a cookbook.  More >


Rise in euthanasia requests sparks concern as criteria for help widen

Rise in euthanasia requests sparks concern as criteria for help widen

Since 2002, euthanasia has been effectively decriminalised in the Netherlands, as long as certain criteria are met. The Dutch position is considered by many to be the blueprint for other countries struggling with right to die issues. Yet, as Gordon Darroch reports, there are concerns in the Netherlands itself about the rise in the number of cases and pressure on patients Ruben van Coevorden clearly remembers the first time a patient asked him to help her die. A woman in her 70s who had survived Auschwitz and outlived her husband, but knew she would not overcome lung cancer. ‘She was quite clear-headed about it: she felt she had had her share of suffering and was finished with life,’ says Van Coevorden, who has a medical practice in Amsterdam's Buitenveldert district. ‘But this was in the days before euthanasia. So I gave her some sleeping pills, enough for an overdose, and stood by her as she took them.’ It was to avoid dilemmas like Van Coevorden's that the Netherlands passed its euthanasia law in 2001, becoming the first country in the world where doctors were allowed to help their patients to die. ‘Technically, what I did – helping someone to take their own life – was illegal,’ Van Coevorden admits. ‘And it is still punishable, unless certain specific criteria are met.’ Law The Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act which health minister Els Borst steered through parliament, did not legalise euthanasia, but gave doctors protection from prosecution if a patient was suffering unbearably and without prospect of improvement (ondraaglijk en uitzichtsloos). The doctor must be satisfied that all alternative forms of treatment have been exhausted or discounted, and seek a second opinion from an independent professional, known as a SCEN doctor (‘support and consultation in euthanasia’). ‘It places a very heavy responsibility on doctors,’ explains Eric van Wijlick, a policy adviser for KNMG, the Dutch medics' federation. ‘They don't do it lightly. As a doctor, you're trained to heal the sick, not to give someone an injection whereby the patient dies.’ In a survey by KNMG, more than half (57%) of doctors who had arranged euthanasia for a patient scored the emotional strain at eight out of 10 or higher. On top of that is the administrative burden: every assisted death case is investigated by one of five regional review committees, who must rule whether the doctor has acted diligently. All-clear If not, the prosecution service opens a case file and decides whether to bring criminal proceedings. ‘Most doctors only feel comfortable when the letter arrives, months later, from the review committee giving them the all-clear,’ says Van Wijlick. The Dutch approach to euthanasia has become a focal point for the right-to-die debate in other countries and is regularly invoked by supporters and critics alike, not always accurately. During the 2012 US presidential campaign, the Republican candidate Rick Santorum dramatically claimed that euthanasia accounted for 10% of deaths in the Netherlands, and that half of these were involuntary – the medically-sanctioned murder of elderly patients in hospital. In fact, euthanasia deaths make up just under 3% of the total and doctors need explicit consent from the patient. A more nuanced objection is that endorsing euthanasia in any form is the start of a process of normalising medically-assisted dying, which will gradually spread into areas currently deemed taboo. Doctors argue that experience has discredited the ‘slippery slope’ argument: only around eight cases a year out of 5,000 are taken up by the prosecution service, and none has led to a conviction. ‘There is no abuse of the system in the Netherlands,’ says Van Coevorden. Rise What is inarguable, however, is that the number of euthanasia procedures carried out has risen considerably in 13 years. Initially the annual total hovered at around 1,900, but since 2006 it has increased by an average of 15% a year. In 2013 the number of euthanasia and assisted suicide cases stood at 4,829, nearly three times the 2002 figure. Altogether around 38% of requests are carried out and 20% refused, while in other cases the patient either changes their mind or dies before euthanasia can be arranged. Theo Boer, who spent nine years on one of the regional evaluation committees, sees the rising trend as a cause for concern. Boer, who teaches ethics at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen, argues that the definition of euthanasia in Dutch law is too broad. ‘We don't have enough specific criteria in the law,’ he says. ‘It doesn't make any mention of terminal illness, or illness at all. You could have a situation in the Netherlands where somebody goes bankrupt and, knowing he will never get back up to the same level financially, argues he is suffering unbearably and puts in a request for euthanasia.’ Cancer When the law came in, the overwhelming majority of those who chose euthanasia – nearly 90% - were terminally ill cancer patients. Latterly the proportion has dropped to nearer 75%. The parameters are steadily widening: last month the Dutch paediatric association NVK called for the minimum age of 12 to be scrapped, arguing that some terminally ill children under that age are capable of deciding they want to die. Psychiatric patients, once never considered for euthanasia, are a small but growing subgroup, with 42 requests granted in 2013. There has been no fall in the suicide rate, as might be expected: in 2013 1,859 Dutch people took their own lives, an unprecedented number. ‘What surprises me is that nobody is making any serious attempt to treat this as a problem,’ says Boer. ‘It seems inarguable to me that the law has led to a rise in incidences. But nobody seems concerned. Even though palliative care has improved considerably, the euthanasia rate has gone up.’ Right to die Compounding the issue, says Boer, is the fact that euthanasia, which was originally introduced to protect doctors, quickly came to be regarded as a patient's right. ‘The debate has changed. Euthanasia is no longer a last resort. It was originally seen as a law that gave doctors rights rather than patients. But we very frequently hear it discussed in terms of a patient's right to euthanasia.’ Boer argues that patients have become more assertive of their preferred way to die. He has been critical of phenomena such as ‘duo-euthanasia’, where the partner of a terminally ill patient asks to die with them because he or she cannot face life alone. ‘When someone has made up their mind they want to die, the first thing they ask is if the doctor can do it,’ he says. And the pressure is not just from patients: ‘In some instances there is pressure from the family.’ Asked to specify a figure from the 4,000 case files that have crossed his desk, Boer replies: ‘It's hard to say, but at a rough estimate I would say the family is a factor with one in five patients. The doctor doesn't want to put it in the dossier; you need to read between the lines. Sometimes it's the family who go to the doctor. Other times it's the patient saying they don't want their family to suffer. And you hear anecdotally of families saying: "Mum, there's always euthanasia".' Pressure The KNMG survey appears to give substance to Boer's fears on this point: it found that 70% of doctors who replied had felt under pressure to grant euthanasia, while 64% believed the pressure had increased in recent years. The survey did not ask where the pressure came from. Van Wijlick says it is difficult to judge without hard evidence whether there is a problem: ‘We've been aware since the early 1990s that pressure is an issue. It would be helpful to do some research into what kind of pressure there is and where it comes from.’ Van Coevorden believes Boer's figure of one in five is ‘realistic’, adding: ‘I've come across it two or three times in my role as a SCEN doctor. There was one case where a woman was dying and had terrible stomach pains, her doctor was tearing his hair out, and when I turned up at the house the family practically pinned me to the wall and said: "You need to give mum the jab now, she's in agony!" 'I discovered that her treatment wasn't working, she was on the wrong type of laxatives and was terribly constipated. I organised a palliative regime that made her more comfortable, and afterwards the family were extremely grateful. She was close to dying anyway, but it allowed them to say goodbye in a better way.’ Van Wijlick argues that the increase in euthanasia deaths shows the system is working. ‘Doctors see from experience that if they follow the procedure, they won't have difficulties, and they feel reassured. That shouldn't obscure the fact that doctors find it very hard to carry out. On average they do it once or twice a year and it's very stressful.’ Ageing population Van Coevorden believes the rise in the number of euthanasia cases is partly due to the ageing population. He acknowledges the criteria have widened, but not always in a negative sense, citing the example of a patient in his seventies who had noticed the early signs of dementia. ‘He could have lived several more years, but he'd seen his father decline and didn't want to go the same way. He had no prospect of relief so he asked me for euthanasia and I agreed. It was clear to me he'd considered it thoroughly.’ What concerns Van Coevorden more is that patients reach for euthanasia too soon. ‘We've developed this idea that death can be arranged, but there are other ways to take the pain out of dying, such as palliative sedation, where death occurs naturally. Euthanasia is really the ultimate form of palliative care. But it's a conflict of duties – the duty to care for a patient versus the duty to prevent their suffering. And it should only be for those exceptional cases.’ He says the Dutch euthanasia law has its roots in the country's pragmatic instincts. ‘We're sober-minded and Calvinistic people, we've taken the attitude that "this is happening anyway, let's regulate it". Dutch doctors don't have to fear repercussions, they can't be blackmailed, it's dealt with openly. We don't have the kind of situations you get in America.’ Global issue Van Wijlick agrees: ‘In every country in the world doctors are confronted with the same problem, but there is no way to check if the doctor has acted diligently. We have a transparent system that can accommodate the various different points of view. That's its strength. The doctor is never obliged to grant euthanasia: the patient has to convince him, and he has to be convinced.’ But Boer strikes a more sceptical note. Though he supports euthanasia in principle and has endorsed thousands of cases, he argues the boundaries should be tighter. ‘If back in the 1990s we had had the quality of palliative care and pain relief that we have now, I doubt whether we would have accepted this euthanasia law at all,’ he says. He regards the law being proposed in Britain by Lord Falconer, which would allow euthanasia only where a patient had a terminal illness, as a better option. ‘We made a number of serious mistakes when we drew up the law,’ says Boer. ‘The problem with being the first country is that you have no precedent. It's good on some points, such as transparency and evaluation, but in general it's nothing for us to be proud of. I worry that if death is seen too quickly as the solution, the value of life is reduced.’   More >


Impress your Dutch colleagues with your Tour de France expertise

Now in its 102nd edition, this legendary bicycle race is set to kick off in Utrecht and will once again captivate spectators all around the world. The event gets massive media coverage in the Netherlands with nightly television updates, live coverage and endless analysis. Brandon Hartley has the lowdown, to make sure you can impress your Dutch friends, colleagues and relations with your Tour de France expertise. A brief history The first Tour de France was organised in 1903 by a fledgling French sporting magazine called L’Auto. Desperate to find a way to boost their readership, the publishers held an emergency meeting. That’s when Géo Lefèvre, one of the magazine’s youngest reporters, suggested they host a bicycle race. Not just any bicycle race though. The original plan was for the event to take place between May 31 and July 5. The gruelling concept scared away many competitive cyclists. When only 15 of them signed up, the organisers cut the race down to a far more reasonable (but still incredibly challenging) 19 days and slashed the entry fee in half. Doping The infamous Lance Armstrong isn’t the only participant to find himself embroiled in a huge scandal. The Italian-born cyclist Maurice Garin won the first Tour de France but his racing career was later dogged by controversy and disgrace. Garin agreed to participate in a second Tour in 1904 but he and several other racers were accused of cheating. Despite being the first cyclist to cross the finish line that year, he later had his title stripped. What exactly did Garin do? Specific details have been lost to the ages but, among other things, he supposedly accepted a bit of food during a stage of the race when doing so was forbidden. Emotions From its outset, the Tour de France has captivated crowds and tempers have often flared among cyclists and fans alike. Emotions ran so hot during the first race that the organisers (prematurely) decided that the 1904 follow-up would be the final Tour. Despite efforts to make spectators and participants behave themselves, there were numerous incidents of violence. Garin found himself in a brawl involving fans and another cyclist outside of Saint-Étienne and remarked 'I’ll win...provided I'm not murdered before we get to Paris'. When cyclist Antoine Fauré buzzed through his hometown, 200 of his followers began attacking the racers behind him. Another spectator later tossed nails out into the street to pop the tires of a few competitors he was rooting against. If that wasn’t enough, several cyclists were also accused of using cars to pull them up the course’s toughest hills. Longevity Despite being an almost complete disaster, the race returned for a third edition in 1905 and has since become one of the most popular annual sporting events on the planet. It’s been held every year since 1903, with the exception of 1915-1918 and 1940-1946 (due to World War 1 and 2). The Netherlands The 2015 edition’s Grand Départ will take place in Utrecht. However, this isn’t the first time the Tour has kicked off in the Netherlands. The 1954 race started in Amsterdam and was the first one to begin outside of France. Day 1 led racers from the city’s Olympic Stadium along a 216-kilometre course to Brasschaat. Ten Dutch cyclists participated in the race and one named Wout Wagtmans won the first stage (but French racer Louison Bobet eventually won the top prize). It was Bobet’s second of three consecutive Tour wins. The Dutch Départ As of this year, the Tour de France has begun in the Netherlands six times. In addition to Amsterdam in 1954, the 1973 race began in Scheveningen. 1978’s Tour began in Leiden, 's-Hertogenbosch nabbed the honour in 1996, Rotterdam hosted in 2010 and Utrecht in 2015 makes six. Ones to watch Vincenzo Nibali, the cyclist who won the 2014 Tour, could win this year’s edition too. The Italian racer was born near the Strait of Messina and this fact, in addition to his competitive nature, has earned him the nickname ‘The Shark of the Strait’. Others prefer to call him 'Nibbles'. Other favourites include British racer Chris Froome, Italy’s Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana from Colombia. The 2015 event The 2015 Tour will lead cyclists over a 3,300+-kilometre course and will be comprised of a total of 21 stages. The first two will happen in the Netherlands. In addition to the Grand Départ in Utrecht on 4 July, the second stage the following day will run from Utrecht to Neeltje Jans, a small island in Zeeland. You can learn more about the events that will take place in the Netherlands here. Utrecht The city of Utrecht put in an initial bid to host a Grand Départ back in 2002. After eventually agreeing to host the 2015 one, local officials and other organisations gradually invested an estimated €15m in the event. In addition to a €4m fee that went directly to ASO, the group that oversees events including the Tour de France and the Dakar Rally, Utrecht invested additional revenue in removing speed bumps and traffic islands from roads and hiring security. Other requirements put forth by the ASO: ensuring that there’s a ‘no fly zone’ over Utrecht during the race and freeing up 2,000 parking spaces for organisers and members of the press. The benefits But what does Utrecht stand to gain from all of this? While many have criticised the cost of the Grand Départ, proponents are eager to point out that the attention and economic boost the city will receive from the event is worth all of this effort. Estimates suggest that between 500,000 and 800,000 racing fans will flood into town between July 1 and 5 (which is sure to increase everything from beer sales in neighbourhood cafes to overnight stays in local hotels). Looking down the road, the Grand Départ could help boost tourism in the long run and enhance Utrecht’s reputation and overall image worldwide. The Tour attracts an annual television viewership of around 3.5 billion people so that means a lot of eyes will be on the city this weekend.  More >


10 great things to do this week: June 29 – July 5

10 great things to do this week: June 29 – July 5

From a shiny new station entrance and a church roof terrace to English folk rock and the booming notes of an organ, here's our pick of the week's best things to do. Marvel at a comic Al Pacino Danny Collins is a tale of an aging pop star attempting to recover his self-respect could well apply to its star, Al Pacino, whose output over the past few decades has been woeful.   Fortunately, director and writer Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love and Last Vegas) has managed to row back Pacino's recent tendency to overact and the result is a charming comedy with perhaps a touch too much sentimentality. The rest of the cast, which includes Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner and Bobby Cannavale, turn in solid performances, the stand-out being Christopher Plummer as Danny's manager and best friend. The scenes between the two aging actors alone are worth the price of a ticket. Spot the fashion crowd This year's summer fashion event is 10 Days Downtown: 10 events during 10 days at 10 locations. There will be fashion shows and exhibitions on various themes at various sites around Amsterdam. Among them are street fashion by young designers at the industrial area Roest, Liselore Frowijn's collection inspired by the cut-outs of Matisse at the Stedelijk Museum and the documentary Dior and I about Raf Simons' first collection for the famous fashion house at Eye. Various locations, Amsterdam, July 3 to 13. www.fashionweek.nl Discover a shiny new entrance at Central Station Amsterdam's central station is currently undergoing a complete transformation to cater for the increasing number of travellers and to give access to the new north-south metro line due to open in 2017. The first part of this enormous project is now open: the rear entrance on the river side of the station. The result is a light and spacious hall with mirrored ceilings, marble benches and rows of hanging plants. Well worth a visit even if you're not travelling. Take a walk on a church roof The celebrated Japanese artist Taturo Atzu has erected a steel staircase up to and a terrace around the top of the tower of the Old Church (Oudekerk) in Amsterdam. He calls his installation The Garden Which Is The Nearest To God. It provides an opportunity to scrutinise the church roof and to enjoy the spectacular view of the city. Oudekerk, Amsterdam until September 6. www.oudekerk.nl Rock the night away Mumford & Sons are performing numbers from their award-winning albums at the Goffertpark stadium at the weekend. Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall and Ted Dwane formed the English folk rock band in 2007. Since then they have clocked up 14 Emmy nominations, winning Album of the Year in 2013. Goffertpark, Nijmegen, July 4. www.livenation.nl Watch one dance for 24 hours The international contemporary dance festival Julidans (July Dance) celebrates its 25th anniversary with Jan Fabre's monumental 24-hour performance Mount Olympus with its 30 performers. It comes to Julidans directly after its premiere at the prestigious Berliner Festspiele. This is immersive theatre on an unprecedented scale. For 24 hours, the main auditorium of Amsterdam's Stadsschouwburg becomes the mythical Mount Olympus. You will be allowed to to enter and leave the auditorium, walk around, eat and drink during the performance. Stadsschouwburg and other locations around the Leidseplein, Amsterdam, July 1 to 12. www.julidans.nl Cheer the cyclists on their way The 2015 edition of the Tour de France cycling race begins in Utrecht when the riders arrive in the city on July 2 and are presented in the Lepelburg park. On July 4 there are individual time trials. July 5 sees the seconded stage of the race from Utrecht to Neeltje Jans in Zeeland via Rotterdam. Full details of the route are on the website. Jaarbeurs, Utrecht, July 1 to 5. www.routetourdefrance.nl Thrill to the sound of the organ Leo van Doeselaar plays Bach, Liszt, Bovet, Mussorgsky and Chopin on the Concertgebouw's world famous Maarschalkerweerd organ. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, July 4 (matinee). www.concertgebouw.nl See Mondriaan's inspiration Visit a major retrospective on the work of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), one of the 20th century's most significant and influential reformers. Steiner served as a source of inspiration for some artistic giants, including Piet Mondriaan, Wassily Kandinsky and Josef Beuys, and for contemporary artists and designers such as Olafur Eliasson and Konstantin Grcic. The exhibition presents an extensive collection of furniture, models and blackboard drawings. Kunsthal, Rotterdam until January 11 2015. www.kunsthal.nl Enjoy outdoor theatre The Over Het IJ summer theatre festival in Amsterdam also takes in music and art. Its centre is the NDSM shipyard and it spreads from there along the banks of the IJ river and in to Amsterdam-Noord. This year the young theatre-makers and more famous names taking part concentrate on the city of the future. Head to the NDSM shipyard where guides will advise on which performances are suitable for non-Dutch speakers. NDSM shipyard, Amsterdam, July 2 to 12. www.overhetij.nl  More >


A Dutch flavour for a French institution – the Tour de France starts in Utrecht

A Dutch flavour for a French institution – the Tour de France starts in Utrecht

The Tour de France has a huge following in the Netherlands and this year Utrecht will be turning French as it hosts Le Grand Départ - the grand start of the round France cycle race - on July 4. The 2015 Tour de France is made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of more than 3,300 kilometres. This year the first two stages take place in the Netherlands - one in Utrecht itself and the second from Utrecht to Zeeland. The city is pumping €15m into the event and expects between 500,000 and 800,000 visitors between July 1 and July 5, when the massive tour entourage moves on to Belgium for the third stage from Antwerp to Huy. Dutch start 2015 marks the sixth time the Netherlands has hosted the start of the world's most famous cycling event. 'One of the reasons the Tour has come to the Netherlands is the way in which we deal with cycling,' the project director Martin van Hulsteijn told news agency ANP earlier this year. 'Utrecht invests heavily in provisions for cycling. That appealed to the tour organisers and the tour for us is a great way to show it off.' Bike racks Final preparations for the time trial are now underway, even involving the temporary removal of some bike racks to free up space for spectators. Utrecht has gone all out organising cycling related events to coincide with the race. There are concerts and exhibitions. A science and cycling conference will take place on July 1-2, which looks at scientific contributions to the development of professional cycling. Among the entertainment will be Orchestre Bicyclette - a 100-man bike-riding orchestra. And German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk will be performing their album Tour de France at the TivoliVredenburg on July 3. Stage two If the thought of joining the tens of thousands of people cramming into central Utrecht to watch the time trial is too much, the second stage of the race offers better opportunities to really savour the style of the Tour de France. The second stage, on July 5, covers 166 kilometres from Utrecht to Zeeland, and offers some potentially spectacular views along the way. Not least will be a ride along the old canals and underneath the Dom tower in the city to the official start. From Utrecht, when the race starts at 13.45 hours, the pack will travel through Gouda and Rotterdam before heading down the coast over the network of dykes and bridges that make up the Delta Works flood prevention scheme. It ends at the Neeltje Jans visitors centre on an artificial island in the middle of the water. ETA is around 17.26 hours, according to the official timetable. Waiting If you prefer to watch the road race itself, be prepared for a lot of waiting around. Find a good spot with a long view of the road, pull up a camping chair and wait. You'll get the cars carrying the sponsors, the cars carrying the press, the cars carrying the rest of the entourage and then a fast blur of bikes. The actual pack flashes past in a few seconds. If you'd rather catch up on the action from the comfort of your own home or office without the wait, the Tour is always shown live on Dutch television and there is a daily round-up every evening.  More >


10 great things to do in the Netherlands this week: June 22-28

10 great things to do in the Netherlands this week: June 22-28

From giant spiders and horticulture on film to Hungarian music and trick cyclists, here’s our pick of the week’s best things to do. Admire British cool The National Ballet performs a programme entitled Cool Britannia which features works by the three foremost contemporary British choreographers: David Dawson, Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon. Dawson and Wheeldon are presenting new work. McGregor's contribution is his fast and furious Chroma, for which he won the prestigious Olivier Award. The ballet orchestra is conducted by Matthew Rowe. Muziektheater, Amsterdam, June 19, 21 (matinee), 24, 26 and 27. www.operaballet.nl Take a walk under the trees This year's outdoor exhibition of sculpture in The Hague features contemporary Belgian artists whose work is on display under the trees of one of the city's central squares. Other artists' work - 35 Belgian artists are taking part - is indoors at the sculpture museum in Scheveningen. Among the participants are Jan Fabre, Jan De Cock, Wim Delvoye and Caroline Coolen. Lange Voorhout, The Hague until August 30. Museum Beelden aan Zee, Scheveningen until October 25. www.beeldenaanzee.nl Cycle to a concert Among the international line-up of musicians for this year's International Chamber Music Festival fronted by violinist Janine Jansen are cellist Nicolas Altstaedt and clarinet player Andreas Ottensamer. There is a Hungarian night with music by composers such as Orbán, Bartók and Kodály. There are also walking and cycling tours of Utrecht which take in concerts in various venues around the city. TivoliVredenburg and other venues, Utrecht, June 24 to 28. www.kamermuziekfestival.nl Watch the flowers grow Alan Rickman's latest directorial effort is The King's Gardens in which he plays the role of the French King Louis XIV. For a film about 17th century landscape gardening it's a fascinating and charming film, replete with heaving bosoms, flouncing dandies, court intrigues and wonderful hats. The film is set in 1682 when renowned landscape architect, André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts), is responsible for the huge gardens at the palace of Versailles. Against his better judgement, he appoints the widowed Madame Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) to create the Rockwork Garden, which is to be an outdoor ballroom with a water feature. The pace of the film, as befits the subject matter, is stately, providing enough time to enjoy the performances of an excellent cast, which also includes Helen McCrory, Stanley Tucci, Steven Waddington and Jennifer Ehle. Buy a book One of the Netherlands' oldest and largest book shops has moved into splendid new premises at number 9 Rokin. The original Scheltema was opened in June 1853 by Jacobus Hendrik Scheltema and moved to its previous location on the Koningsplein in 1985. It got into financial troubles in 2006 when its then owner went bankrupt, but has now found a new investor. The interior of Scheltema's new home is inspired by that of the famous London book shop, Foyle's, and features lots of blond wood. There is a good selection of foreign-language books, including English. Get sand in your eyes The Netherlands plays host to the World Cup Beach Volleyball, which takes place in the four cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Apeldoorn. In Amsterdam, the Dam Square will be transformed into a beach court. In The Hague, matches will take place on a pontoon in the Hofvijver outside the parliament building. The world's best 48 men's teams and 48 women's team are competing, including nine representing the Netherlands. Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Apeldoorn, June 26 to July 5. www.volleybal.nl Invest in a Banksy An Amsterdam gallery is showing around ten original works and all the limited prints by Banksy, the pseudonymous English graffiti artist and political activist whose works of political and social commentary have been featured on the streets, walls and bridges of cities around the world. His artworks have become highly collectible and walls have been demolished in order for it to be sold. The highlight of this show is a painting with a price tag of upwards of €1m. LionelGallery, Nieuwspiegelstraat, Amsterdam, June 20 to July 20. www.lionelgallery.com Witness how old rockers never die The American singer-songwriter Neil Diamond may be 74-years-old but he still maintains an extensive tour agenda and his concerts still pack a punch. He will no doubt sing some of his old favourites such as Red, Red Wine and Sweet Caroline, but also more recent numbers such as those on his 2014 album, Melody Road. Tickets are still available. Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam, June 25 and 27. www.ziggodome.nl Thrill to giant spiders The Gemeentemuseum has acquired two large sculptures by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) which are on long-term loan from the Louise Bourgeois Studio and on permanent display. Spider Couple (2003) is one of a series of sculptures of spiders on which Louise Bourgeois worked from the 1990s to her death in 2010. The sculptures are a tribute to her mother, a carpet weaver and ‘spinner of yarns’. Spider Couple shows a mother spider protecting and restricting her child. An apt illustration of the ambiguity that typified Bourgeois’ relationship with her mother. Clouds and Caverns (1982-1989) has never before been displayed in a museum. The sculpture resembles a heavenly landscape. Louise Bourgeois suffered from a severe form of insomnia. She therefore used the night-time hours to produce journal-like sketches: drawings of shapes that recall spirals, labyrinths and landscapes. Clouds and Caverns seems to be a three-dimensional version of these night-time drawings. Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. www.gemeentemuseum.nl Smell the greasepaint Canada's Cirque Éloize performs the show ID, a fizzing spectacle which mixes circus and urban dance to electric effect. A Chinese pole act has shades of West Side Story, contortion gets an extra edge when it meets break-dancing and a trampowall sequence is exhilarating. There's even inline skating and trial bike tricks. Theater Carré, Amsterdam, June 24 to July 19. www.carre.nl  More >