Nine national parks and 1 nature reserve

Nine Dutch national parks and one nature reserve The Wadden Sea has just been voted the best nature reserve in the Netherlands. Yes, the country is small and one of the most densely populated places on earth, but it's got plenty of natural attractions. Here are some of the best places to get away from it all – just ignore the odd Highland cow or military training exercise. 1. Schiermonnikoog The island of Schiermonnikoog (‘Schier’ is Middle Dutch for ‘grey’ and refers to the colour of the habit of the Cistercian monks who cultivated the island in the 15th century, while ‘eye’ is another word for ‘island’)) is one of the six Dutch Wadden Islands and packs a lot of landscapes  – beach, dunes, woods, salt marsh, tidal flats  – into its 5,400 hectares. Only the locals are allowed cars on the island, so either rent a bike or walk, or take the bus from the ferry. Schiermonnikoog is home to over 300 kinds of bird, hundreds of different plant species, including nine types of orchid, and has a permanent...  More >


'The tulips in spring still surprise me'

My Dutch husband told me: ‘I married an American, please stay American!’ Georgia Regnault-Smith came to the Netherlands for a year in 1965, met her husband in Amsterdam and ended up staying. She settled in The Hague, became a relocation consultant and has been active in the American Women's Club of The Hague and the Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas (FAWCO) for 40 years. Her work with both organisations was recognised when she was recently made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was working for a student travel agency, NBBS, in New York. I'd finished college and couldn't get a job in my field of mathematics, but I wanted to live in NYC, so I thought I'd try this for a year. Back in those days the agency was purely for students. They ran tours of Europe for American college girls – Volkswagen bus trips with a Dutch student driver. It was as close to backpacking as we had then. Part of the NYC job was that you got a free passage to Europe, by boat. I spent 10 days getting here!...  More >


MPs should represent the people

Reform the voting system to give us MPs who truly represent the people The Dutch party list system means most MPs are anonymous and undistinguished. Directly elected members would have to listen to voters, argues Roderik van Grieken, director of the Dutch Debating Institute. At the end of last year a sizeable majority in Parliament decided to curb the rights of MPs who split from their party. They are now to be deprived of part of their speaking time and funds. Although eight ‘parliamentary party deserters’ in four years is understandably annoying, this measure is not going to do much solve the underlying problem. At a time of unrest and discontent about politics and politicians we would do well to ask ourselves what type of MPs we’re really after. At the moment most MPs are capable inspectors who check what the cabinet is doing and frequently come up with law proposals of their own. That is the job their parties select them to do. Important selection criteria include experience, knowledge of specific subjects and, to some extent, regional...  More >


The strange death of Dutch Labour

The strange death of the Dutch Labour Party The Dutch Labour party (PvdA) might be part of the current coalition government, but its support has plummeted since the last election. Gordon Darroch examines the party's collapse. Just before Christmas the Dutch parliament gave Diederik Samsom the kind of send-off reserved for much-loved colleagues who are moving on after a spat with the management. Most MPs joined in a standing ovation for the departing Labour (PvdA) leader, who was praised by parliamentary chair (and party colleague) Khadija Arib as ‘indefatigable and combative’, ‘the type who pointedly refuses to accept that there are only 24 hours in a day’. Prime minister Mark Rutte, whose full term in office owes much to Samsom’s ability to keep his party on side, commended him as a man of his word who had instrumental in putting the economy back on course. Samsom himself contended, in his swansong speech, that the economic recovery ‘should silence the cynics for all time’. So why was Samsom quitting parliament,...  More >


How tolerant are we?

I’m tolerant – and don’t tell me otherwise Think you’re no stranger to the pitfalls of cognitive bias? Think again, says social psychologist Marjoka van Doorn. Pitfall 1: Intolerant? It’s them, not me! When I was writing my PhD thesis on tolerance, people would frequently come to me with stories of intolerance in others: Muslims repressing women, PVV members protesting against immigration, civil servants refusing to marry same-sex couples. Why not write a thesis about that, they would ask rather pointedly. As I was researching intolerance towards Muslims in the Netherlands it was invariably pointed out to me that Muslims were far from tolerant themselves. These conversations had one thing in common: it was always the other party who was painted as the intolerant one. The speakers themselves were clearly the epitome of tolerance. Someone who thinks that people who protest against the arrival of an asylum seekers centre in their neighbourhood are intolerant is apparently positive about immigration, but at the...  More >


Seven Dutch ways to bring in the New Year

Seven Dutch ways to bring in the New Year Out with the old and in with the new: Brandon Harley has some typically Dutch suggestions to celebrate the New Year Protect your fingers and letting others set off the fireworks Where can you watch fireworks on New Year's Eve? Well, there’s a good chance that one of your neighbours will spend a month’s salary on plenty of them so all you need to do is look out a window around midnight (or, in many areas, immediately after sunset, local regulations and nervous pets be damned). But there are plenty of professional displays that ring in the new year as well. Thousands of people line up along the Nieuwe Maas every year to watch the Erasmusbrug in Rotterdam burst into a cacophony of vibrant colours and lights displays. A bit wilder is the annual display orchestrated by Amsterdam businessman and rare book collector Joost Ritman on the bridge at the junction of the Bloemgracht and Prinsengracht. His display has become a beloved tradition in the city and you can read more about it...  More >


Winter walks to work off Christmas dinner

Make the most of the Dutch countryside – a few winter walks The Dutch are keen on walking and the countryside is riddled with signposted walks to encourage you to get out and about. Here's a few suggestions to help you walk off the effect of all that festive food. De Rijp - 7 to 22 km The pretty village of De Rijp in Noord Holland is famous as a place to go boating, but it also offers several walks past tiny villages and, outside the breeding season, across fields into the big wide open. Pick up a map at the VVV in the heart of the village. De Rijp has plenty of choice for lunch at the end or start of your walk. Website Zwanenwater - 4.5 km In Noord-Holland province close to the Callantsoog seaside village, Zwanenwater is a small nature reserve. The walk takes you through birch woods and over dunes around the edge of the lake, with a stop-off at a bird hide. In the spring, the grass is full of purple orchids. Website De Zilk - 9.4 km There are lots of signposted walks in the dunes west of Amsterdam but this is our favourite. It's...  More >


Last-minute tips to change health insurer

Last-minute tips for comparing your health insurance You've just a few days left to decide whether or not to change health insurance provider or policy next year. It can be tough to find the time to organize your health insurance for 2017, especially during the busy holiday season. Yet, it is very important to check whether your current policy still suits your needs and provides value for money before the end of the year. Switching to another health insurance provider may easily save up you to €300. The following checklist provides some final tips for changing your health plan: Use a comparison website You can easily compare health insurance plans (in Dutch: zorgverzekeringen vergelijken) using a comparison website. These sites give you an overview of the cheapest and most suitable insurance plans that are tailored to your health needs. ZorgWijzer.nl is one of the few sites that offers this service in English. Prevent redundant health cover Most Dutch citizens are over-insured, meaning they have bought an expensive...  More >


How to celebrate a Dutch Christmas

How to celebrate Christmas in the Netherlands Like most other places where they celebrate Christmas, the Netherlands does tend to grind to a halt until the New Year. But what else should you be aware of about the festive season in the Low Countries? Here's the traditional DutchNews.nl list of 10 key things you need to know about Christmas in the Netherlands. Christmas trees Tradition has it that Christmas trees don't make an appearance in the Netherlands until after Sinterklaas, so as soon as the Sint has left, the tree sellers move in. The Dutch love their trees - in fact they love Christmas decorations in general. The top floor of the Bijenkorf department stores are always worth checking out for the latest in tree fashions, with matching ribbons, table placements and mood candles. Christmas lights Christmas lights in the Netherlands tend to be in terribly good taste - lots of illuminated canal bridges and trees in gardens - but if you want tacky Santas, you can find them if you know where to look. Den Ilp, a little village...  More >


Water from heaven celebrated with beer

It rains a lot in the Netherlands, as anyone living here cannot have failed to notice. So why not do something useful with it? Molly Quell looks at a new beer brewed using rainwater. A flood in Copenhagen in 2011 resulted in much damage to the city. But it also began the development of Amsterdam’s first beer made from rainwater. The widespread water problems in the Danish capital set off alarm bells among Amsterdam officials. The city's waterboard Waternet came up with an initiative - named Rainproof - to focus on boosting the city's capacity to absorb the surplus water, while putting the rain to good use . The success of one such project was celebrated last week at the Volkshotel in the Weesperzijde neighbourhood of Amsterdam where a crowd gathered to toast a new beer. The beer, called Code Blond as a nod to the Dutch weather service’s weather warnings, was the brainchild of Joris Hoebe, who owns the creative agency Spektor. Hoebe also serves as a coach at Amsterdam's hbo...  More >


'Dutch life is totally agenda-based'

‘My life here is totally agenda-based. If it’s not in the diary it doesn’t happen’ Nitesh Saini first came to the Netherlands from India on business nine years ago. He works as a senior ICT manager in Amstelveen and in his spare time supports clazzez.com, a community-based website where talented individuals can showcase their skills in their local city or neighbourhood. How did you end up in the Netherlands? My previous employer wanted to open up business with a leading Dutch bank and I was asked to travel to the Netherlands for the company. In the few months it took to conclude the deal my family came to visit a couple of times. We found the Netherlands a great place to consider living with our beautiful daughter for the next phase in our lives. We moved lock, stock and barrel in 2007. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc – and why? I don’t think these categories should define anyone. Having travelled to and lived in many countries, I strongly feel part of a global community that is not bound by any borders....  More >


Trains better than short-haul flights

Short-haul flights? Take the train instead Tens of thousands of people will be heading back to their homeland from the Netherlands for the Christmas break. And train services must be brought up to scratch to compete with airlines, says Liesbeth van Tongeren, deputy chairwoman of the parliamentary GroenLinks party ‘I would question whether flying to and from Barcelona for €30 is socially acceptable,’ Schiphol director Jos Nijhuis recently said in the NRC. ‘Personally I think it isn’t. I am in favour of stronger competition from fast trains for short-haul flights to places like Paris, London and Berlin. Fewer short-haul flights means Schiphol would have more capacity for long-haul flights.’ It’s not every day that Schiphol and GroenLinks see eye to eye about something. I wholeheartedly agree with Nijhuis. Flying to a Spanish costa for a couple of tenners may be very attractive  but it pollutes the air and contributes to climate change. Fine particulates and noise pollutions plague those living near airports. There...  More >


Great things to do over the Christmas

Great things to do in the Netherlands over the Christmas break Christmas lights, winter circuses, shopping for that perfect present and seasonal theatre - there is a lot on in the Netherlands for the festive season. Esther O'Toole has a few suggestions. Amsterdam Winter Parade A massive hit over the last few years this dinner and theatre event provides an unusual alternative to your usual Christmas fare. Waiter and entertainers use the table as a stage and perform both theatrical and culinary wonders for your delight. Kid friendly (adult supervision needed, reduced dinner prices for youngsters). Website Coppelia Coppelia is one of the traditional Christmas ballets but this version promises to be anything but traditional. With funky, brightly coloured design and choreography from Ted Brandsen it’s suitable for all ages 4 and up. Website Jaap Eden skating courses If you, or your kids, can’t stand being cooped up indoors throughout the school holidays, you might want to take advantage of the week long skating...  More >


'A city built on water is magical'

‘I think any city built on water has something magical about it’ Satarupa Bose Roy, 37, is from India and has lived in the Netherlands for around 10 years. She is the founder of Indyana, a magazine for Indian nationals in the Netherlands, can't ride a bike and would like to meet Ruud Gullit because her grandad is his biggest fan. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I accompanied my husband who had come over as a knowledge migrant. He is an IT consultant. He came over from Calcutta and I joined him about 6 months later. We were first based in Utrecht and then Eindhoven, and now we're in Almere. It's been a bit of a journey for us in the Netherlands. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I would consider myself first as an Indian, and then perhaps an international, but I don't really consider myself an expat.  Since I set up my 'expat' magazine I feel I have come much closer to Dutch society. I do call myself an international. I feel very fluent in the ways of the world having lived and studied in the...  More >


Reform EU and ditch euro: SP

Reform the EU and ditch the euro, says SP leader Emile Roemer Far from being a unifying force the euro has turned out to be a dividing one, breaking down social and democratic rights, writes Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer. At the start of  December 2010, the leaders of 10 European countries came to Maastricht to overhaul Europe. The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union and a steady move towards complete economic, monetary and political union was started. The Maastricht Treaty became solely about budget deficit numbers and national debt numbers. Countries ruled by these numbers are being forced to lower public spending, limit wages and strangle the post-war welfare state. The present EU rules are a straightjacket for countries who favour a social policy. Most people in the Netherlands see a mutual advantage to cooperation with other European countries. But they don’t like to be dictated to. That is why the SP wants to change course in Europe. The European Union is due another overhaul. We want a new kind of cooperation,...  More >


The Netherlands' most photographed wall

This man photographed strangers in front of the same wall for seven years In 2009 artist Hans Rietbergen started photographing people as they walked past his home for a series of portraits of everyday street life in The Hague. Nearly 2,000 shots later, he tells Gordon Darroch (no. 1958) how a small project turned into a personal odyssey. If you were asked to name the most photographed spots in the Netherlands you'd probably think of the Rijksmuseum, the bulb fields outside Haarlem or the Kinderdijk windmills. Not a nondescript brick wall in The Hague. But over the last seven years Hans Rietbergen has built up a collection of hundreds of photos of people walking past the same spot across the road from his house on Beeklaan. Exactly the same spot, right down to the paving stones and the break line in the wall where the colour of the bricks changes from pale red to a more fiery ochre. Since 2009 Hans has been dashing out of his front door to stop passers-by and persuade them to stand and pose by the wall. 'I look out from my balcony, or I'm just going...  More >


Dutch online mapmaker helps Haiti rebuild

How online maps are helping Haiti rebuild after Hurricane Matthew Since Hurricane Matthew swept through Haiti last month Paul Uithol and a team of volunteers have been using online maps to help rebuild devastated communities, as he explains to Moira Holden Modern disaster relief is about data as much as food and shelter. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful storm to hit the Atlantic for a decade, aid agencies in Haiti have been using data from OpenStreetMap to plan the distribution of vital supplies to areas of the country. ‘Not everywhere is covered by Google Maps, and in particular not the less developed areas that also have little resources and capacity to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,’ says Paul Uithol of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). ‘The least mapped countries are those which have massive issues.’ The 34-year-old became involved in HOT two years ago, having started using OSM as a student at the University of Twente. ‘It struck me immediately as an awesome and very powerful...  More >


Dutch health insurance: check your policy

Dutch health insurance: make sure you check your policy Dutch health insurance premiums and provisions fluctuate every year so it is definitely worthwhile checking whether your current insurance policy still suits your needs and your budget. The end of the year is the time when Dutch health insurance companies go all out to attract new customers with tempting offers and special deals. In fact, the difference between the cheapest and most expensive health insurance policies on offer in the Netherlands will go up to over € 250 euro in 2017, according to ZorgWijzer.nl. So shopping around can cut your health insurance bill by a tidy sum. However, price is not the only thing you should take into consideration when comparing health insurances. Chances are your current policy does not meet your specific needs or wishes anymore. For example, why should you cover yourself for maternity care or orthodontics when your children have already left the family home? Too much choice? This all may sound easy, but there are so many different...  More >


My Dutch rental housing hell

The hell of finding a home to rent in the Netherlands Attempting to rent a home in the Netherlands turned Julia Corbett into a paranoid spammer with stalker tendencies thrown in. She explains how the rot set in. After not one, two or three, but four properties slipped from my fingers I can safely say I have experienced the housing hell in the Netherlands. Our adventure began when my Dutch partner returned home after some years in England and I became a student in the Netherlands. It has been a more bumpy start than expected after experiencing a lack of suitable housing options. From Hilversum to Leerdam and Den Bosch to Busson, I have learnt that luck and timing has more to do with finding a place to rent than most people will feel comfortable with. My Dutch boyfriend of nearly five years took eagerly to the rental sections of housing websites and arranged a day crammed full of viewings of apartments, houses and loft conversions. Having donned a smart outfit and brushed my hair for the encounter with our future...  More >


British royal paintings back in The Hague

British royal painting return to their spiritual home of the Netherlands Works of art owned by the British royal family are back on Dutch soil in an exhibition, At Home in Holland, at the Mauritshuis, The Hague. By Moira Holden The paintings now on loan from queen Elizabeth II were originally collected by her predecessors during a surge of enthusiasm for the Dutch artists of the Golden Age. Most of the 22 paintings on display today were bought by George IV during the early 19th century. This royal collection is considered one of the most important collections of Dutch art anywhere in the world and reflects the huge influence the artists from the Netherlands had on the English art world. The first purveyor of the English monarch’s artworks in 1625 was Dutch. ‘The style appealed to English collectors,’ explains Jane Choy, guide at the Mauritshuis. ‘The genre of painting everyday life and its details was popular until the mid-nineteenth century before the rise of the Impressionists. England had a close relationship with Dutch art because...  More >