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



How to deal with your aging parents when you live abroad

How to deal with your aging parents when you live abroad

Scarcely a day goes by in the Netherlands without a news story focusing on care of the elderly. New legislation introduced at the beginning of this year has limited access to residential care and put a much greater emphasis on the role of family and friends in helping people remain living in their own homes. Expat and social worker Ana McGinley, whose own parents live 15,000 kilometres from her home in Haarlem, has some advice about how to cope when your own close relatives are so far away. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it is difficult to deny the poignancy of saying goodbye to aging parents. Relationships with family members are crucial in the preservation of self-identity in expat adults and children – especially when the culture of the host country is unfamiliar or confronting. Being able to ‘be yourself’ with the people who know you is a wonderful comfort often available in the company of family members. Our relationships with family members face constant change. Most of us remember being dependent on our parents as children, yet independent of them as adults. What most of us don’t consider is that age and illness may result in aging parents becoming increasingly dependent on us, their adult children. Being an expat does not change this dynamic. So how can you maintain relationships with and provide support for aging parents while living on other continents? Every situation will be unique but this list is a starting point which emphasises the two most important factors in caring for parents as an expat: communication and planning. Use the Technology Distance does not need to be the demise of relationships. Scheduling a weekly Skype call with parents and grandparents is an ideal way to keep in regular contact. Grandchildren can share the highlights of their week. Practical issues, like health care and holiday arrangements, can be discussed at length. Family members can remain actively involved in one another’s lives without being physically in the same house. Take a step back in time For older people who have not embraced the Internet and mobile telephones, maintaining contact will take more time, effort and planning. Weekly telephone conversations, cards on birthdays and special events, letters with photos and drawings from grandchildren, holiday postcards – all signal to parents/grandparents that you are thinking of them and making the effort to keep in touch. Holidays Being able to spend physical time with aging parents is going to depend on distance, finances, desire and available free time. For many expats, budget cuts to employment contracts have resulted in the loss of previously funded annual family holidays to the employee’s country of origin.  As a result, many families are no longer able to afford annual trips home to visit aging relatives.  Alternative options worth considering include contributing to the cost of parents coming to visit; or choosing mid-way holiday destinations with both parties sharing the costs of travelling only half the distance. Appoint a family manager Family dynamics are complex and the basis for films, books, and mental health problems. Nevertheless, in every family there is generally one individual with a practical streak which identifies them as the person everyone turns to in times of family stress. Hopefully they live close to your parents and are willing to take on the role of family manager. Make sure they are aware you will be relying on them for factual information about your parents, should their independence and health deteriorate. Most importantly, ensure that the family manager knows that you appreciate them and the difficult role they have been allocated. It is all in the planning Encourage parents to be proactive in planning for their own aging. Discussion about moving from the large family home with multiple stairs, a high maintenance garden and impractical bathroom with spa should happen years before a move is necessary.  Similarly, legal arrangements - appointing a family member power of attorney, writing a living will, making clear plans for the care of a surviving spouse and having a current will - are all tasks that need to be completed while your parents can express their wishes fully. Remember that dementia can sneak up slowly and render the person incapable of making their future wishes known. The meaning of life A significant problem for elderly people is isolation and loneliness. This is the time that their peers, friends and family members die or become incapacitated through illness. Social contact and a life purpose are important to everyone at all stages of life. Ask about who is actually visiting? Encourage parents to get involved in social clubs, voluntary work, churches, exercise programmes – things that they have expressed an interest in but need a push to join. This will hopefully propagate new connections and regular social events within their own local community. Increase in demand When a parent does become incapacitated and requires help, make sure health professionals have your contact details and know you want to be part of the care plan, even though you live in a different country. Your family manager should attend all medical appointments to support your parents and to provide information, and to brief you about the outcome When you are a single child For expats who grew up in a one-child family, a sick parent will generally require you visit promptly to assess the situation. From then on, request that you be included, via Skype calls if possible, in all interviews and case conferences with health care professionals to ensure that you have up-to-date information about the prognosis, treatment plan and short-term recommendations for your parent. This information is crucial in making your own plans about future visits. Saying goodbye Every expat should consider how and when they will go home should a parent become seriously unwell or die. Do your research on the fastest route you can return home, where you will access the funds to make this trip, and who will take over the roles you currently fill in both your personal and professional life while you are away. The death and funeral of a parent is an unpleasant but inevitable fact and it requires planning. Go easy on yourself Being a local or distant family carer is stressful. Living in a different country means you can’t visit to check your parent is receiving adequate care and that services are performing as expected. Not being able to spend quiet time together with an aging parent can cause frustration and anxiety that will distract you from your daily life and become an unconscious source of stress. Take time to also look after yourself, enjoy your life and keep things in perspective. Ana McGinley was a social worker for 15 years, specialising in care of the elderly. She is currently writing a book about dealing with aging parents and keeps a blog about dementia.  More >



Festival fever 2015: something for every musical and cultural taste

Festival fever 2015: something for every musical and cultural taste

There are masses of options to satisfy your festival cravings in the Netherlands, whatever your musical and cultural tastes. Peter Leggett has put together a list of 12 of the best to help the less-seasoned festival-goers out there pinpoint where to start. London Calling - April 24-25 London Calling is held twice a year in Amsterdam’s Paradiso, and focuses largely on the up and coming bands. Since the festival began back in 1992 it has been a showcase for British bands seeking to break through. Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, Supergrass, Blur, Suede and The Klaxons are among those who played the festival before their breakthrough. The festival often sells out and tickets are available for each day, or a weekend pass partout, for a reasonable price. Acts worth looking out for this year: The Districts, Staves, Drenge and Broncho. Rewire – May 1-2 This is definitely a festival worth checking out with a thoughtful and deceptively broad programme. Much of the focus is on contemporary electronic music, neo-classical, experimental pop, new jazz, sound art and multidisciplinary collaborations. Spread over several central locations in The Hague, including the Grote Kerk, De Paard and the old electricity factory, this year’s performers include Neneh Cherry, Thomas Ankersmit, The Bug, Shit & Shine, Cloudface and Alessandro Cortini. Here Comes The Summer - May 1-3 Some siblings become more alike as they grow and mature, some develop their own unique qualities, and others just stand out in any crowd. Here Comes The Summer is a festival for all the family which takes place on the Wadden Sea island of Vlieland. Highlight this year could well be ‘an intimate programme’ from Spinvis with Saartje van Kamp. The special programme for the kids this year includes an event named the Singing Potatoes. Sniester – May 29-31 2014 was Sniester’s inaugural entrance to the festival scene, and it has more than suitably filled the void vacated by the deeply missed Walk The Line. The event is not just about the live music; it is also about food, art, film and live performances. Situated in the centre of the city, the live venues are all within a brisk walk of each other, and you are never far away from a friendly smile and a beer. PinkPop - June 11-13 PinkPop is one of the oldest and longest running dedicated rock/pop festival on the planet, and first took place in 1970. Traditionally it is held on the Pentecost weekend (Pinksteren in Dutch, hence the name). This year’s line-up features acts such as Muse, Eagles of Death Metal, Foo Fighters, Elbow and the Counting Crows. It often sells out well in advance, so get your tickets quickly. Oerol – June 12-21 If you have not yet been to the Wadden Islands, or you need some motivation to go back, then there is no better excuse than Oerol Festival, which literally takes over the entire island of Terschelling. The focus is on theatre, musical performances and street acts. Barns, sheds and even hollows in the dunes become stages to cram in the many acts and performers over the 10-day period. It is not just a festival to go and see. You can be part of it, join in, learn to hone your creative side and discover new talents. Best Kept Secret - June 19-21 One of this year’s best festival line-ups can be seen if you visit the Best Kept Secret programme page on their website. Amongst the big names - Noel Gallagher’s The High Flying Birds, Royal Blood and First Aid Kit - you will find some newer discoveries from the worlds of indie, folk, rock, electronica and hip-hop, such as Cairo Liberation Front, Sue the Night and Wolf Alices. The site itself is located near to a holiday park and campsite, and features some pristine forests, a beach and an excellent selection of food and beverages. Down the Rabbit Hole - June 26-28 As a close family member to Family Lowlands, Down The Rabbit Hole is all about ‘adventure, confusion, surrealism and psychedelics’, and is fast developing a strong reputation as one of the Netherlands' greener and less crowded festivals. The programme this summer includes some great musical talent: Iggy Pop, War on Drugs, Alabama Shakes, Damian Rice, Blaudzun and Ghostpoet. Zwarte Cross - July 24-26 Zwarte Cross is a fun-fuelled music and motorcross festival, where you can listen to some unique acts, performances and ‘countless kick-ass stunts’ (so their website claims). This year it is being held in the last weekend of July, mid-summer festival season. The line-up includes 150 bands from home and abroad, performing on 24 stages. Music styles include pop, blues, dance, reggae, hard rock, disco and, wait for it, German schlager. Lowlands - August 21-23 With roughly 200 acts, spread over three days and around 10 stages, this festival offers much more than just music – be it dance, hip hop, rock, pop and alternative. The organisers are geared towards the experience, which is why you will come across street theatre, stand-up comedy, literature and cabaret as well. Acts to note this year: Underworld, Chemical Brothers, Caribou, Jose Gonzalez, SBTRKT, and Courtney Barnett. Crossing Border – various dates Crossing Border focuses on the combination of literature, performance and music and organises several events and festivals throughout the year. The main event takes place in The Hague from November 12-15. Check out the website for dates and performers – not yet updated for 2015. Le Guess Who? - November 19-22 Le Guess Who? is a four-day independent music festival which has been held in Utrecht since 2007. The festival takes place in a variety of locations throughout the city and combines an eclectic collection of today's burgeoning talent with one-of-a-kind acts. Generally the festival is host to more than 60 acts, some new faces, some often performing their first show in the Netherlands. On May 23, Le Guess Who? will present their new music event titled ‘One Night in Pandora’, featuring hyperactive psych/garage band Thee Oh Sees, doom metal powerhouses Pallbearer, psychedelic wunderkind Morgan Delt and Noura Mint Seymali. Other listings If you are looking for dance music, the Iamsterdam website has a list of big events in and around the Dutch capital. Big dance festivals include Mysteryland, Dance Valley, the Sensation franchise and the massive Amsterdam Dance Event.  More >


10 Dutch delicacies to buy in snack bars

10 Dutch delicacies to buy in snack bars

The Dutch call it ‘een vette bek halen’ – literally ‘to get yourself a greasy gob’ or pigging out on fried food. The snack bars stock an interesting selection. Here are the most popular. Please note, the Dutch often use the diminutive form for their snacks –  a kroketje, a sateetje, a patatje, in an attempt to minimise calorific value. 1 Saté Saté was brought to the Netherlands by people from the Dutch former colony of Indonesia. It is originally a delicate little dish of meat on a bamboo stick served with a sambal, ketjap or peanut sauce. Here it has degenerated into a few chewy skewered lumps of unidentifiable origin drowned in a sauce made with peanut butter. 2 Loempia, nasibal and bamibal The snack bar loempia (spring roll), nasibal (filled with rice) and bamibal (filled with noodles) are also distantly related to Indonesian food. They were made popular by the Chinese restaurants which began to proliferate in the Netherlands in the 1950s. These often employed Indonesian cooks who brought their own recipes. When nasiballs and bamiballs began to be manufactured in factories, their shape changed from a ball to something resembling an ice hockey puck and in their frozen state they could, indeed, be used as one. 3 A turkeystick A turkeystick is a kebab made with bits of turkey, chicken and onion rings, all deep fried of course. 4 Patatje oorlog/kernoorlog A patatje oorlog (French fries war) is usually chips with mayonnaise, peanut (butter) sauce and raw onion. If you go to Noord-Brabant or Leiden they add curry sauce to the mix and call it French fries ‘nuclear war’. 5 Kaassoufflé Just that: a cheese soufflé only deep fried. 6  Kroket Croquettes are probably one of the Netherlands’ favourite snacks. They can be eaten with mustard and are great on bread. You will get points for guessing which type of meat is mixed in with the goulash type sludge that is in them. The kroket is something most foreigners in the Netherlands develop a secret liking for. 7 Berehap In the delicate language of the snack bar, a berehap is an enormous (like a bear), deep fried concoction of sliced meatball on a stick, interspersed with onion rings. The healthy option comes with pineapple. 8 Frika(n)del A deep fried, absurdly elongated sausage made with different kinds of meat. This snack has been around since the seventeenth century. Rumour has it that frikandellen are filled with a yummy mixture of meat from udders, cows eyes and fat. This is, of course, strenuously denied by frikandellen manufacturers. The truth is that frikandellen are made with what Dutch meat processors call ‘separated meat’ – ie the meat left on the bones of chickens, pigs and horses (yes, some manufacturers use a bit of horse as well) after they have been filleted. 9 Kapsalon The kapsalon - literally hairdressers salon - was reportedly invented by a Cap Verdian hairdresser in Rotterdam who asked his local snack bar to combine all his favourite fast food into one dish. The classic kapsalon consists of French fries covered with doner kebab or shwarma meat and melted cheese, then topped with some lettuce and tomato for vitamins. Often served with garlic sauce and sambal. 10 Vlaamse frieten Not all snacks are the devil’s food, or Dutch. This one happens to be Belgian but the Dutch love it too. Some snack bars serve the real thing: chips made from real potatoes with a creamy, home-made (or close to) mayonnaise. Delicious.  More >


Following in Van Gogh’s footsteps: 10 places where he lived

Following in Van Gogh’s footsteps: 10 places where he lived

On July 29 it will be 125 years since Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh shot himself in France. A whole host of events are being organised to coincide with the commemorations, from exhibitions to bike tours. Here's a list of 10 places associated with the Dutch master, who was unappreciated in his lifetime but is now considered one of the greatest painters who ever lived. 1 Zundert (1853) Vincent was born in Zundert, in the province of Noord-Brabant. His father, Theodorus van Gogh, was a protestant minister who although well-liked was not considered a very inspirational preacher. Vincent was to follow briefly and disastrously in his father’s footsteps. The bleak Noord-Brabant scenery appeared in much of his work. 2 Tilburg (1866) The Rijks-HBS was situated in the former palace of King Willem II in Tilburg. This is where the 13-year-old Vincent had his first drawing lessons. One of his earliest drawings was of two farmers leaning on their spades and it’s a theme he would repeat many times. The school is now an arts centre. Vincent spent two years in Tilburg. Why he had to go back home is unclear but what is certain is that his time in Tilburg signalled the end of his formal education. 3 The Hague (1869) When he was 16, Vincent went to work for his art dealer uncle Vincent (‘Uncle Cent’) at Goupil and Company in The Hague. His job would have consisted of packing up the fine art reproductions Goupil specialised in. In later years Vincent would return to The Hague to do several drawings of the town commissioned by his artist cousin and tutor Anton Mauve, a famous painter at the time. The Hague was also the place where Vincent and his brother Theo started their correspondence. 4 London (1873) At 20, Vincent was sent to England to work for Goupil’s London branch. Like Charles Dickens, whose compassion for the poor he came to share, he went on prodigious walks. Van Gogh didn’t have any definite plans to take up painting as a profession at this time but he did make several drawings of London landmarks, such as Westminster Bridge. A painting by the 17th century landscape artist Meindert Hobbema, The Lane at Middelharnis, which had been in the possession of the National Gallery since 1871 and reproductions of which he certainly handled at Goupil’s, is thought to have been the inspiration behind Van Gogh’s Populierenlaan (1884). You can follow a Van Gogh walk around his London haunts. 5 Borinage (1878) Vincent was fired from his job at Goupil’s – why exactly is not known but one can imagine Vincent being pretty intense company. This was certainly the impression he left in the Borinage, a poor mining district in Belgium, where Vincent ended up as a lay preacher after an attempt to study theology in Amsterdam came to nought. He involved himself in the lives of the poor, gave away all his belongings and even went down the mine. But no matter how hard he tried, the people of the Borinage didn’t take to him. The church authorities grew uneasy at his zeal – people called him ‘the Christ of the coal mine’ - and didn’t renew his contract. Theo, the recipient of his brother’s drawings of the bleak, poverty-stricken Borinage, advised him to take up art as a profession. 6 Nuenen (1883) After a couple of detours – and a love affair with a prostitute  whose ‘rotten character’ preacher Vincent had hopes of reforming - he went to stay with his long-suffering parents who had moved to Nuenen, also in Noord-Brabant. Here he painted his famous Aardappeleters (1885), a portrait of a family of farmers eating a dish of boiled potatoes. Vincent made over 500 paintings and drawings in Nuenen, mostly of farming subjects. Nuenen has a museum dedicated to the painter. 7 Paris (1886) Theo, whose career at Goupil’s was much more successful than Vincent’s, had moved to Paris to work at the company’s main branch. He invited his brother over and it was in Paris that Vincent discovered colour and developed his typical, short brush stroke style. He met with other painters, notably Paul Gauguin. His subjects were the streets and taverns of the city and, with Vincent failing to sell any of his work and with the cost of models, frequently himself. 8 Arles (1888) The countryside beckoned and Vincent travelled south, to Arles in the Province. He wanted to set up an artists’ colony there and rented a couple of rooms for the purpose in the Yellow House. In the event only Gauguin joined him for what turned out to be two productive if tempestuous months. Vincent loved the light and the colours of the south and he painted some of his most beautiful canvases there. But all was not well and after a bust-up with Gauguin, in which either Vincent cut off a bit of his ear or Gauguin lopped it off with a sabre, it became clear that his mental health was deteriorating. In 1889 he entered the asylum at Saint-Rémy- de-Provence. 9 Asylum: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (1889) Vincent stayed in the asylum for a year. Periods of sanity and confusion alternated – at one point he was only allowed to draw because he was eating his oil paints – and Vincent produced some 150 works here. 10 Auvers-sur-Oise 1890 In the final year of his life Vincent moved to Auvers-sur-Oise to be closer to his brother. It was a period of frantic activity: he did a painting a day. One of the most famous paintings of this period is a portrait of physician and friend Dr Paul Gachet. The cornfield paintings he did were meant to convey ‘sadness and extreme desolation’ he wrote to his brother, but also showed ‘how healthy and good it is to be in the country’. But in July 1890 Vincent went into a cornfield and shot himself in the chest. He died two days later.  More >


Video: Dutch pranksters show Ikea art to art experts

Video: Dutch pranksters show Ikea art to art experts

The bright sparks at Dutch viral video company LifeHunters placed a painting from Swedish furniture chain Ikea in a museum in Arnhem and told art experts it was by the famous IKE Andrews. The reactions varied from ‘an artist who can put all his emotions in the painting’ til ‘I think it’s worth €2.5m.’ Most of those who had waxed lyrical about the art were good humoured when told about the painting's real origins. But not all.   More >


Video: House of Cards The Hague x 2

Video: House of Cards The Hague x 2

The start of the third season of popular US drama series House of Cards has inspired video makers in cities all over the world to make their own versions of the show’s introduction. The Hague has two House of Cards intros, so far. The first was made by the youth wing of the VVD Liberal party, with Mark Rutte as prime minister and co-staring a host of political names and commentators. The second is the real introduction for a new series of interviews with politicians about how The Hague works.   More >


Why you should vote for your local water board? A dijkgraaf explains all

Why you should vote for your local water board? A dijkgraaf explains all

Voting in for your local water board on March 18 is a key part of Dutch democracy and gives everyone a say in the decision-making process, says Gerhard van den Top, the dijkgraaf or the head of the board of the regional water authority in Amstel, Gooi en Vecht. Since our earliest efforts, some 700 years ago, to defend our people and properties against sea and river water and to reclaim ‘polders’ from lakes and sea area, the Netherlands has separated water taxes (and governance) from overall taxation in our general democracy. The Amstel, Gooi and Vecht Regional Water Authority, and 22 other regional water authorities in the Netherlands, raises a specific water tax from all those who benefit from the water security and quality we safeguard in our region – including expats who live and work here. Sea level Water is a fundamental and long-term concern in a country such as the Netherlands, one-third of which lies below sea level, and two-thirds of which is prone to flooding by one the major rivers discharging through our delta into the North Sea. By separating the water tax from general taxation, we prevent these long-term concerns from being out-competed by other, often more short-term political priorities (education, health and other social concerns). But, of course, under the ‘No taxation without representation’ principle, a form of democratically elected governance needs to oversee the Regional Water Authorities, as these turn tax income into actual plans and projects in the field of water security and quality. Decide On this coming March 18, voters can decide who will occupy 23 out of 30 seats for the General Council of the Water Authority. A total of 13 parties have filed a list of candidates for these elections, and have been campaigning to win voter confidence for the past two months. The other seven seats are reserved for representation by large landowners (farmers and nature conservancies) and for the business sector. After the elections, a combination of parties representing the majority of seats in the Council develops a coalition plan and forms an Executive Committee to oversee its implementation during the Council’s four-year term. Both the General Council and the Executive Committee are presided over by the Regional Water Authority Chairman (‘Dijkgraaf’ in Dutch). Not being elected but appointed by the king of the Netherlands, the Chairman has a similar role to that of a mayor in a municipality. Choice Our regional public Water Authorities are responsible for water security and quality. This means we maintain dykes as well as hundreds of ground and surface water levels in the 700 km2 area under our responsibility. Safety from floods, water treatment and quality and the facilitation of recreational water use are part of our responsibility. Our region comprises 20 municipalities, including the national capital Amsterdam. In addition to densely populated built up areas, our region harbours large areas of open water, agricultural land and nature parks. The region also has a great diversity of cultural, social and economic groups, from highly affluent to a large number of (primarily urban) people living at or below the minimum wage standard. While one might expect that the realm of water management would not lend itself as much to political debate as other public service areas in the general democracy, each of the 13 political groups competing for votes is taking distinctly different positions on such areas as the tariff, our social policy towards those with low income, expenditure on innovation and sustainability-enhancing measures, the need for investments in nature quality, recreational use and so on. To facilitate an informed vote by expats living and working in our region, we decided to offer an English translation of www.kieskompas.nl,  the evaluation tool that voters may use to determine their party of preference for the March 18 elections. Vote Our regional water authorities are mandated government agencies that raise water taxes from you, and work hard to offer you a secure and clean water environment for you to experience a pleasant and safe living and working environment every day. March 18 is your opportunity to provide us with direction on where we should be driving our efforts in the coming four years. By casting your vote, the expat community in our region is represented on our Council, and can take your concerns on board. For more information on these elections check out our website www.agv.nl, or send us an email to Gritta.Nottelman@waternet.nl. We will try our best to answer your questions within 24 hours.  More >


A very brief guide to the 12 Dutch provinces

A very brief guide to the 12 Dutch provinces

The Dutch go to the polls next week to elect the members of the 12 provincial councils. In case your local geography is not up to scratch, here's a list of all 12. Drenthe, capital Assen Drenthe is a mainly rural province, with some industry around Assen and Emmen. It is also home to 53 of the Netherlands 54 hunebedden, or dolmens – megalithic tombs. Flevoland, capital Lelystad The newest province, created largely on post WWII land reclaimed from the sea. It’s flat and full of farms. Flevoland has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Friesland, capital Leeuwarden Fryslân, to give the province its name in the local language, is the biggest Dutch province if you include water as well as land. Frisians who move away – and there is no university in Friesland – are ferociously proud of their roots. Gelderland, capital Arnhem Gelderland may be one province but its folk divide it into three areas: the Betuwe, known for growing fruit; the Veluwe with its national park; and the Achterhoek – literally back corner - which stretches to Germany. As far as Amsterdammers are concerned, people from the Achterhoek are stereotypical country bumpkins. Groningen, capital Groningen Groningen is largely rural – with huge empty expanses of black earth – but has large natural gas reserves in Slochteren. Extracting this gas is causing parts of the province to sink. Beerta is the only Dutch local authority area to have had a communist mayor. Limburg, capital Maastricht Limburg is pretty well surrounded by Germany and Belgium and is home to the Netherlands’ highest hill, the Vaalserburg, which is 322.7 metres high. The capital Maastricht is notorious for giving its name to the Maastricht treaty. Geert Wilders comes from Venlo in Limburg. Noord-Brabant, capital Den Bosch Nearly all of Noord-Brabant is above sea level, which will probably be handy in years to come. As a province, it is big on farming, especially mega pig farms. Nor should we forget Eindhoven, home to Philips, and Kaatsheuvel, home to the Efteling ,the biggest theme park in the Benelux. Noord-Holland, capital Haarlem Amsterdam is the national capital, so Haarlem gets the province, although it stretches right up to Den Helder and has sneaked hold of one Wadden island – Texel. Overijssel, capital Zwolle The one province everyone forgets, Overijssel means lands across the river Ijssel, and it stretches from the German border to the former island (and fundamentalist Christian hotbed) of Urk. Utrecht, capital Utrecht The smallest and most central of the provinces, Utrecht is also home to the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, or hill ridge, former healthland now largely covered with pine plantations. Zeeland, capital Middelburg The most western province, made up of a string of islands and largely below sea level, Zeeland has the lowest jobless rate in the country. It is a hugely popular destination for tourists, particularly from Germany. Zuid-Holland, capital The Hague Zuid-Holland is one of the most densely populated and industrialised areas in the world, thanks to the industrial sprawl of Rotterdam and its port. The southern part of the province is made up of a number of islands, including the strangely named Goeree-Overflakkee.  More >


One week to go – the Netherlands goes to the polls again

Post these days is usually made up of bills or the occasional postcard or birthday greeting. But in the past few days, you may well have received a card from your local council, inviting you to vote. Before you get too excited, unless you are Dutch, this will be an invitation to take part in elections for your local water board – the people who ensure the drinking water is clean and the dykes keep out the sea. The water board elections take place on March 18, the same day as Dutch nationals can vote for the 12 provincial governments. Here's the lowdown. Provincial councils The provincial councils (Provinciale Staten) run the 12 Dutch provinces and, in turn, their members elect the 75 members of the upper house of parliament, or senate, three months later. This means their role is crucial - the current coalition government does not have a majority in the upper house of parliament and relies on the help of opposition parties to get legislation through. However, opinion polls indicate the coalition - made up of the right-wing VVD Liberals and the Labour party - will lose a large number of seats in the senate, making it even more difficult to pass controversial policy. How do the provinces work? The provinces receive money from central government to manage nature areas, build and maintain cycle paths, oversee provincial public transport and promote the arts and culture. Each province has a provincial executive and council, both of which are chaired by a king’s commissioner. The king’s commissioner – a bit like a provincial mayor - is a crown appointee. You need to be a Dutch national to vote in the provincial elections. Water boards The water boards (waterschappen) regulate how public money is spent on ensuring a clean water supply and making sure the country does not flood. You can vote for the water boards if you are an EU national or hold a valid residency permit for the Netherlands. The water boards are keen to encourage internationals to vote and have put together a ‘compass’ to help you choose: Who should get your vote. How to vote Voting cards (stempas) are sent automatically to your official address. You need to take them with you plus valid ID to vote. The polling stations are open from 07.00 hours to 22.00 hours. You vote by filling in the circle with a red pencil next to the name of your choice.  More >


Video: Purmerend eagle owl stars in horror film.

Video: Purmerend eagle owl stars in horror film.

The eagle owl which has been attacking people in the Noord Holland town of Purmerend has not only made headlines round the world, but has now become a film star. The province has now given permission for the owl to be caught but until that happens, locals are being advised to use umbrellas as a defence against its talons. Meanwhile,  latest attack took place on Friday morning on a paper girl who was delivering the morning newspapers. She is said to have been covered with blood after the bird swooped on her.   More >


11 things Dutch shopkeepers will say to you

11 things Dutch shopkeepers will say to you

You thought going shopping was a great way to practise your Dutch on the natives? Indeed it is. But here are a few key phrases you really do need to watch out for. Wil hij (of zij) misschien een plakje worst? If the butcher likes you, possibly because you have just paid a fortune for a piece of meat, and you have a child with you, he will ask ‘would he (or she) like a piece of sausage?’ They invariably ask the parent, not the child who has no say in the matter. Some butchers have been known to offer sausage to dogs… who never say no. Hoekje of plat? You are now at the cheese shop. The cheese man wants to know if you want your piece of  cheese wedge-shaped or flat. Why is unclear. Possibly wedge people have big fridges with plenty of room while poorer people have to stack stuff. Or want to cut it into cubes. Anders nog iets? Anything else? Mag het ietsje meer zijn? Do you mind if it’s a bit more? This is usually a rhetorical question because the assistant has scooped too many olives into the plastic pot or cut too big a piece of cheese. You are free to object if you dare. Met vijf maakt tien Good shopkeepers don’t thrust your change into your hand.  They count it out. Their concluding phrase might be ‘and five makes ten’ (or any other amounts of course) Gaat het zo mee? This literally means 'is it going with (you) like that?' - a somewhat obscure way of saying 'do you want a bag'. Met staart? Uitjes en zuur erbij? We’re at the fish stall  buying herring. Would you like the tail with that? the fishmonger will ask. You need the tail to dangle the herring over your mouth if you want to eat it that way. Purists poo poo uitjes and zuur, this is why the fishmonger always ask you if you want them. Onions are onions but the pickle is only referred to by its taste: zuur or sour. Meenemen of opeten? Are you taking this home or eating it (here). The Dutch omit the ‘here’ which always suggests that when you take it home you will immediately throw it in the bin, and frankly if you buy a frikandel that is exactly what you should do. Met of zonder? Do you want your French fries with or without mayonnaise. With, please. Papier of plastic? You are at the health food shop for a change. You are buying a piece of spelt bread with chia seeds and the person at the bread section asks ‘would you like paper or plastic’ to put your loaf in. In that split second you have to consider which is better for the environment. Eh…. Fijne dagen!/Prettig weekend! Fijne dagen (enjoyable days) is what shopkeepers wish harassed Christmas shoppers. Your prettig or fijn weekend, starts on Friday morning. This article was first published on website Netherlands by Numbers  More >


Video: I have tinnitus and I want to die

Video: I have tinnitus and I want to die

Gaby Olthuis suffered from constant noise in her head, ‘like a train screeching or someone scratching their nails on a blackboard’. To end her suffering, she was given a lethal potion to drink by a doctor from a clinic set up to help people who want to die. This documentary with English subtitles was made by television programme De Monitor and was filmed a few weeks before her death. More on this story  More >


Washington DC has nothing on Amsterdam

Washington DC has nothing on Amsterdam

The Dutch embassy in Washington has published this handy infographic, outlining all the ways Amsterdam and Washington are different. It's a response to DC's mayor's assertion that decriminalising marijuana will not turn the city into, shock horror, something like the Dutch capital. The embassy even published a special website page highlighting the differences in drugs policy. The page concludes by pointing out that Americans are more likely to smoke weed than the Dutch. 'The lifetime rate of marijuana consumption for ages 15-64 in the Netherlands is 25.7% compared to 41.5% in the US,' the website states.  More >


Six Dutch words and one gesture which are impossible to translate

Learning Dutch but bogged down in the grammar? Or are you a complete failure at the difference between de and het? Never fear, help is at hand. Here are six essential but untranslatable words and one gesture to help you sound like a native. Gezellig A gezel was an apprentice in medieval times and we still use the word levensgezel for someone who accompanies you on the journey of life, in other words your better half. Conviviality, the Dickensian kind, comes close with its emphasis on having a jolly time in the company of friends. No one would say how convivial, however, the way the Dutch say Hè gezellig. It also denotes a degree of intimacy, so a gathering at home or around a restaurant table would be labelled gezellig in a way a gathering at a discotheque or a football match would not. Hè hè Depending on how you say it expresses relief at a job well done or the end to something strenuous, like an afternoon’s shopping. You sit down, take your shoes off and utter a heartfelt hè hè. If someone says (Ja) hè hè in an irritated tone it means you are stating the obvious. Ja, ja Means yes, yes but actually denotes disbelief. Pull the other one. Gedogen Turning a blind eye, tacitly allowing something. The Netherlands has a drugs gedoog policy. The possession of more than five grammes of hashish or marihuana is illegal but the authorities choose not to prosecute even though they know what you’ve got in your pocket. The concept of gedogen has a long history in the Netherlands. The Calvinists of the Dutch Republic did not allow the Catholics, or any other faiths, to worship publicly but turned a blind eye to the celebration of mass in schuilkerken or hidden churches.  Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic) in Amsterdam is an example of a hidden church. It is now a museum. The most recent but much less profitable example of gedogen is the so-called gedoogkabinet from 2010 to 2012, a minority cabinet made up of the right-wing liberal party VVD and the Christian Democrats, supported by the anti-immigrant party PVV. The PVV did not form part of the government but could effectively block or condone any decision it made. The fact that everyone who is not Dutch failed to understand the set-up is proof of how difficult a concept gedogen is. That weird gesture The Dutch also have a gesture that is uniquely theirs. Place your hand next to your cheek as if you were going to slap it. Make a waving motion and pull a happy face. You are now saying that what you have in your bulging cheeks is very tasty indeed, or lekker. Lekker Tasty, but not just used for food. Someone can have een lekker kontje or a nice butt, and calling someone a lekker ding means you would enjoy some, let us say, good conversation with him or her. Ga lekker zitten means make yourself nice and comfortable. Lekker puh is said by a child who has put one over on a another child: so there. Trendy people use lekker in a slightly different and extremely irritating way: Extreme sporten? Dat vind ik wel lekker (extreme sports? Like it). Beleg Sandwich fillings doesn’t cover it because a boterham, or a single slice of bread, is not strictly speaking a sandwich and can’t be filled unless you fold it in half. ‘The stuff you put on a slice of bread’ is the nearest thing. Beleg is an essential part of Dutch lunch and can mean anything, from chicken curry mush to slices of ham and the dreaded smeerkaas. This article was first published on website Netherlands by Numbers.  More >


10 traditional Dutch recipes – not all of which involve potato

10 traditional Dutch recipes – not all of which involve potato

It would be very easy to be snotty about Dutch food and talk about snack bars, chicken with apple puree and the ubiquitous ‘ovenschotel’.  We could go on and on about boiled chicory with ham and cheese sauce and meatballs with green beans and potatoes – served at 6pm sharp. But we won’t be doing any of that. We have a sneaking appreciation for some traditional Dutch recipes – especially those guaranteed to get you through the cold winters. Here are 10 dishes you really should try. 1. Stamppot and its ilk Let us get this out of the way to start with. When it comes to food it seems the Dutch like nothing better than to mash things. They cannot put a number of perfectly nice ingredients together without taking a hand blender to them. But then, it’s difficult to make a hash of a mash – the basic ingredients being simply potato and some vegetable or other. There is an endless list of things you can mash. Here are some examples. Hutspot is said to have originated in Leiden in 1574. The Spanish, on the run from William of Orange, lifted the siege of the city in a hurry and left a simmering pot of onions, carrots and parsnips (later to be replaced by potatoes). The famished people of Leiden, presumably all armed with forks, mashed the lot and invented hutspot. It is traditionally eaten with ‘klapstuk’ or boiled beef but we like it with bacon chops. Hete bliksem means ‘hot lightning’ and is made of apple and potato, mashed up of course. Use sour apples  (Goudreinette) and put in lots of crispy fried bacon cubes. Boerenkool and andijviestamppot are, respectively, potato and curly kale mash and potato and curly endive mash. Serve with rookworst (smoked sausage) and fried bacon bits. The more green vegetable the better. The other big hitter is zuurkool stamppot – pickled cabbage and mash which is a distinctly acquired taste. 2 Beetroot and herring salad Another simple dish consisting of pickled herring, cooked beetroot, some gherkins, pickled onions, boiled potatoes and some white wine vinegar. Cut everything up in small pieces and mix (not mash). 3 Wentelteefje Good camping food, a wentelteefje is a slice of white bread sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar dipped in milk and egg and then fried in butter. ‘Ey, waer ick t’huys alleen, ick backte wentel-teven Van suyckert witte broot, en butter-smeerigh vet,’ wrote one A. van de Venne in 1623.  ‘Were I home alone I would bake some wentelteven of sugared white bread and greasy butter.’ It must have been the 17th century equivalent of that ultimate solitary culinary pleasure, the bacon sandwich. The origin of the word is a little obscure. ‘Wentelen’ means to turn over which is understandable enough but teefje means ‘bitch’ and is therefore slightly puzzling. ‘Teef’ may have been a sort of confectionary in the olden days. 4 Spek en bonen Another simple winter favourite: bruine bonen (brown beans), smoked bacon, throw together, et voilà. ‘Voor spek en bonen meedoen’ originally meant to do something for very little remuneration and is one of several Dutch sayings involving beans. It now means your presence does not really bring anything to the proceedings. 5  Kapucijners with spek and piccalilly We have no idea what the proper name for this dish is because everyone we ask has a different answer. This feast is based on big Dutch peas known as kapucijners which are cooked and then served with slices of bacon, smoked sausage, boiled potatoes, apple puree, silverskin onions and piccalilly… at least. May also be known as the Captain’s Dinner, raasdonders or Zeeuwse rijstafel (with the addition of rice). 6 Draadjesvlees The perfect winter warmer. Draadjesvlees is beef that has been simmering in stock for about a month with a few spices thrown in. No, it’s not a month, but it is a good few hours –  long enough for the meat to become very tender and fall apart in little threads, or draadjes. Not surprisingly, old-fashioned draadjesvlees has been reclaimed by the slow food movement. Serve with red cabbage and apple (from a jar) and boiled potatoes. 7 Griesmeelpudding Beloved by some, gruesome childhood memory for others, griesmeelpudding is semolina pudding. It is often covered in bessensap, or berry coulis. 8 Hangop This is another dessert. You can buy it in the supermarket but don’t because it is laughably easy to make. All you need is a wet tea towel, a sieve and a container to sit under the sieve. Pour a litre of yoghurt onto the  wet tea towel, cover and leave for 8 hours in the fridge. What you are left with is hangop and very delicious it is too, especially with fruit or honey. The name has nothing to do with any hang ups the Dutch may have about the quality of their cuisine. The tea towel with yoghurt used to be ‘hung up’ for easy dripping hence the name. 9 Erwtensoep No list of Dutch dishes would be complete without the perfect lunch on a winter’s day – thick, creamy, sausage-filled pea soup. Pumpernickel bread with katenspek (yes, smoked bacon again) on the side is a must, as is a strapping Belgian beer. Make it yourself and feel you really have gone Dutch. 10 Haagse bluf The name of this dessert roughly translates as ‘all talk and no substance from the Hague’ which may or may not have something to do with The Hague being the political capital of the Netherlands. Haagse Bluf is a dessert made up entirely of fluff. Beat two egg whites with 100 grams of powdered sugar, then adorn with a bit of berry juice. Serve in a glass with ladies fingers biscuits. This article was first published on website Netherlands by Numbers  More >


10 Dutch ideas we wish we had thought of first

10 Dutch ideas we wish we had thought of first

The Dutch are an inventive lot. Among their clever ideas in the past: the stock exchange, the submarine, the fire pump and the speed camera. Here’s a list of other nifty ideas we wish we had come up with. 2theloo A chain of public conveniences. Corny name but business is booming. 2theloo started out in an empty shop in Amsterdam’s Kalverstraat and now operates WCs in 13 different countries worldwide and has 14 million customers a year. The key to their success? Decent, clean loos and you get your 50 cents back if you buy something in the personal products shop. The One Nights Tent Go to any festival ground after the big event itself is over, and you will find enough tents left behind by their owners to fill a large refugee camp. Step up Devin Malone, Amsterdammer from Alaska, who came up with the One Nights Tent – made of easily recyclable and biodegradable plastic so you don’t need to feel guilty about abandoning it. The company now makes lilos and sleeping bags as well. Dutch Cell Dogs We thought this was a bizarre joke when we first heard about it but no, the Dutch Cell Dogs foundation brings together people in prison with dogs that have been abandoned. The foundation helps prisoners to train dogs – all of which have behavioural issues or have been mistreated. The dogs benefit and the prisoners learn about communication and responsibility. Judging by the pictures, not the place to pick up a sweet little lapdog. Storm umbrella Not perhaps the most beautiful object but a perfect example of pragmatic Dutch design… sturdy, weather-proof and folds up small – the storm umbrella. Makers Senz swear their invention can withstand winds of up to 100 kph. Eau d’Amsterdam What does Amsterdam smell off? No, not weed and not deep fried snacks but elm trees. Well that’s the story according to crafty creatives Saskia Hoogendoorn and Lieuwe Martijn Wijnands. Amsterdam has 75,000 elm trees and every spring the streets are piled high with their ‘snow’. So why not capture the essence of the elm and sell it in a bottle for €58 for 50 ml? De Eenzame Uitvaart – the lonely funeral Every year about 15 people die in Amsterdam with no one to mourn them. Step up a group of poets who attend the funeral, choose the music and write a poem for the deceased, even though they have never met. Originally known as the Poule des Doods, the poets are now united in the foundation De Eenzame Uitvaart – the lonely funeral - with chapters in The Hague and Rotterdam as well. The poems read at all 189 funerals so far (February 6, 2015) are online. Read them and weep. The Van Gogh Path Witty, inventive, fun, romantic: the Van Gogh Path near Eindhoven is both a functional cycle path and a work of art by Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde. If only every bike ride was like this. Peerby Need a tool, a step ladder or even a barbecue? Why not borrow if from your neighbours rather than buy it from a high street store? Peerby helps you do just that and there are no fees attached. Snappcar Similar in spirit, Snappcar helps you avoid Avis, Hertz, Europcar and all the rest. Instead. rent a car from a private citizen who lives around the corner from a few euros a day, all properly insured and with guaranteed payments. You get a much more interesting choice of cars as well. Findfence We just love the Vindhek. Designer Annemarieke Weber talks about the Findfence as a ‘concept about respect, honesty and trust’ and a ‘living work of art’. We just think it’s a damn good idea. A fence where you can hang up lost property and where people who have lost something can look and see if it has been found. Keys, gloves, favourite cuddly toys: we’ve seen them all hanging on the fence in the Vondelpark. Brilliant.  More >


Let’s make things beta at TEDxDelft

Let’s make things beta at TEDxDelft

On February 27 2015, TEDxDelft returns with a new and bigger event, featuring an impressive line-up of speakers and inspiring stories.  The event will take place from 14.00 until 22.00 at the Aula Conference Centre in Delft. This year’s theme, 'Let’s make things beta!', is all about remembering that every great idea was once raw and imperfect, and had to be refined in order to make it what it is today. Technology, entertainment and design are what TED is all about. In 1984, a conference was organised in California, centering around these three fields and with one mission in mind: 'ideas worth spreading'. Since then, TED has evolved to now cover just about every topic imaginable. For up to 18 minutes per speaker, the stage would be open to a person with an idea worth spreading. In June of 2006, these great ideas became more accessible to the world when TED started posting the talks online. These talks were now able to spark conversations with a wider audience. Two years later, TED decided to empower others and help to create 'independently organised TED events' called TEDx. With these events, communities around the globe have been able to spread and share their ideas. Indeed, this is where TEDxDelft comes into focus: an independently organised TED event situated in Delft that also shares in the mission of making ideas accessible to everyone. This year, the stage is set for the fourth TEDxDelft event. Speakers include Dr. Patrick Rensen from the Leiden University Medical Center who will talk about how the simple act of lowering your thermostat can help you lose weight. Moreover, TU Delft Master's student, Mileha Soneji, will present her solution to helping those living with Parkinson’s disease, while chef Yuri Verbeek will discuss how inspirational ideas can appear in the most unlikely of places. Tickets may be purchased online on the TEDxDelft website, at the Delft Tourist Information Point (Kerkstraat 3) or at the event itself (subject to availability). Student/PhD tickets are €24 and regular tickets are €49 per person. For more information, visit http://www.tedxdelft.nl/.  We hope to see you there!  More >


Ten Dutch cheeses

Ten Dutch cheeses

There is more to Dutch cheese than the plastic versions of Gouda and Edam you tend to find in foreign or even some Dutch supermarkets. Here are some of our favourites, and hard cheese if we’ve missed yours out. Dutch hard cheese, by the way, is either jong (young, 4 weeks), jong-belegen (young-mature 8-10 weeks), belegen (mature, 16-18 weeks), extra belegen (extra mature, 7 -8 months), oud (old, 10-12 months) or overjarig (very old, more than 18 months). 1. Leidse kaas Cheese with cumin seeds to give it flavour. 2. Friese nagelkaas Cheese with cloves and cumin seeds, an acquired taste for some and a tried-it-once-never-again experience for others 3. Bleu de Wolvega Organic French-style blue cheese from Friesland. Very tasty. 4. Goudse kaas, old. Crumbly, salty, pungent with overtones of sick (don’t let this put you off, just hold your nose and eat this delicious cheese on a piece of roggebrood or rye bread.) 5. Zeekraalkaas, Organic sheep’s milk cheese with samphire, made in Terschelling. Yum 6. Geska Glarus Not a Dutch cheese but such a pervasive presence on Dutch tables since times immemorial that it deserves a place. It’s stinky, powdered Swiss cheese which tastes like shredded cardboard. Expats who miss it can buy it in the home sickness shops on line. 7. Rommedoe (roum is the Limburg dialect word for cream and doe is derived from the French doux, or soft) A hold-your-nose Limburg cheese which is no longer made in Limburg because of Dutch regulations but pop over the border with Belgium and you’ll find it under the name Hervekaas. It’s production goes back to the fifteenth century. Sharp, pungent and stinky. Don’t take on any form of public transport. 8. Edammer kaas. Small round cheese whose production goes back to the 17th century and one of the best-known Dutch cheeses in the world. It was known as a klootkaasjes or ball (as in gonads) cheese. 9. Texelse schapenkaas. This cheese was made in the 16th and 17th centuries on the island of Texel. One of the more surprising ingredients was the juice of boiled sheep’s poo which gave it is characteristic colour (green) and taste (sharp). It also helped keep the cheese. This practice was discontinued in the 1930s but you can still buy the poo-less variety. 10. Limburger. Beloved of comedians for its pungent smell – often compared to body odour – Limburger cheese was made in the 19th century in the Duchy of Limburg, which is now divided between the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Nowadays its mainly made in Germany. They are welcome to it. Note: Some Dutch cheeses have brand names, like Leerdammer (also: Maasdammer) or Old Amsterdam. They have nothing to do with either Leerdam, Maasdam or Amsterdam and have been given a brand new tradition by cheesy marketing men. The Edam and Gouda in foreign supermarkets on the other hand have nothing to do with cheese. This article was first published on website Netherlands by Numbers   More >