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


Expats in remote areas of the Netherlands – How’s life for you?

Expats in remote areas of the Netherlands – How’s life for you?

Not all internationals live in the Randstad with expat services at their fingertips. Deborah Nicholls-Lee speaks to readers in remote locations across the Netherlands and asks, ‘What’s it like when you’re the only expat in the village?’ Sicilian Nicola Sirchia (32) is in love with his trees. ‘I have apple trees! I can see them grow, make apple cake and do all those kinds of things. That makes me happy!’ he enthuses over the phone from his home in the rural Hoeksche Waard, an island in Zuid-Holland.  ‘I don’t need a house that costs a million euros in the city centre. I just need a simple house where I can have my trees.’ The online digital manager lived in Amsterdam, Breda and Rotterdam, before moving, in 2017, with Dutch wife Shirley (29), a mental health counsellor, to the village of Goudswaard, where the population is under 2000 and the only other expat is the owner of the local Chinese restaurant. ‘My work is quite intense, so we decided to move somewhere where our brains had the opportunity to relax a bit,’ he says. ‘We bought an amazing house with a big garden that can give us and our two German Shepherds all the peace, freedom and tranquillity that we never find in big cities.’ Sushmita Jha (29), an account coordinator from India, is equally enthusiastic about her new home in tiny Westerbork in the heart of agricultural Drenthe, which could hardly be more different from her previous life in an apartment in New Delhi. ‘It’s just a good feeling,’ she says. ‘After a busy day, I go back home and there’s so much peace and greenery … When I come to Amsterdam for work, I really find it chaotic.’ Compared to Amsterdam, she says, people in Drenthe really make time to see their family, much like in India. She has been stunned by the help and support of her Dutch in-laws. ‘I didn’t expect that you would see that kind of bonding in the family in a country like the Netherlands,’ she says. Sushmita admits that it’s not always easy, though. ‘You really have to speak good Dutch as people don’t tend to speak very good English,’ she says. Though she has no desire to be part of what she calls ‘an expat crew’, she likes to kick back with other Indians every so often. ‘We have ‘Indian time’,’ she laughs, ‘and we speak a lot of Hindi!’ Elena Lomo Melian (46), a Spanish-Australian who moved to Ulvenhout in Noord-Brabant from Sidney in 2009, agrees. Though her more isolated location meant she integrated faster and learnt the language quicker than expats like her sister in the Randstad, she found she had to put more in each day too, and that could be tiring. ‘Sometimes you need respite and you just need to hang out with a group of people that get you – whilst you’re still working on integrating,’ Elena explains. When she arrived in the village, she worked hard on assimilating, but during those exhausting months when her first child was born, she found that she ‘couldn’t hold it anymore’. ‘I didn’t want to think – which you need to do when you’re speaking Dutch! Then, I really reached out to the international community,’ she says. She created a women’s circle of like-minded people and she spent a lot of time with the ‘Women with Dutch Partners’ group in Breda, who understood what it was like to have a foot in both camps. Rejection Finding a niche made all the difference for British couple Sandra (50) and Mark Stanbury (54), who struggled to fit into parochial Egmond aan den Hoef in Noord-Holland. ‘There are two or three couples who are well-travelled and pretty chilled and we get on really well with them,’ says Sandra, but, beyond that, the couple spend most of their time in nearby Castricum, where they have found a great social life surrounding the rugby club, which Mark describes as ‘a life-saver’. In the 90s, they lived for four years in Utrecht. ‘In Utrecht, they didn’t make us feel like outcasts. They would talk to us, invite us to their street party,’ says Mark. Egmond was different. ‘We had kids outside our house saying, ‘go home English people’.’ he says. ‘In Utrecht, they were more ‘interested’ in us; they didn’t really see us as a threat, whereas up here, I think they did,’ explains Sandra. Mark wishes they had bought a home in Castricum. ‘When we put our youngest boy in Castricum [school], he thrived,’ he tells me. He recommends renting in an area first to see if you are comfortable there. A Canadian reader, who moved to an idyllic village in Limburg and has asked for anonymity, also found it hard to find acceptance. ‘Even our estate agent asked me more than once, ‘Are you sure you want to live here? It’s very small.’,’ she says. The children of this family and the family in Noord-Holland both experienced bullying in school and both families found themselves the subject of local chit-chat. Learning Dutch ‘It’s a relief my Dutch was so bad – I wasn’t able to offer up much fodder for gossip!’ jokes our Limburg expat. But Dutch can only take you so far below the big rivers: ‘Even though I’d learned enough Dutch to get by in the shops, social situations were still sometimes difficult as every village has its own version of the Limburg dialect,’ she says. The family have since moved to Maastricht, where, she says, ‘it’s much easier’ and her children are ‘happy and thriving’. Egyptian dentist Sameh Elgendy (30) also found language an issue. He contacted us from Zwolle, in Overijssel, where he lives with his Polish wife, Kamila (27), a job coach. ‘It took my wife some time here to find a job, mainly because of the language,’ he told DutchNews.nl. ‘Outside of the Randstad there were almost no part-time Dutch language courses available,’ he says, and though Zwolle is a city – albeit a small one –  Kamila eventually travelled an hour south-west to Utrecht to take lessons. The couple did find the Expats Zwolle group, though, and enjoy joining other internationals for trips, pot-lucks and picnics. Zwolle, says Sameh, is ‘a nice city’ but ‘lacks the big city luster’, and they are now considering moving west to The Hague or Rotterdam. Back in sleepy Goudswaard, Nicola has found native speakers to be very patient. ‘People have time, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the same language,’ he says. ‘The thing that is beautiful is how we understand each other because we want to communicate.’ When everyone knows your name The slower way of life requires a bit of planning, with shops closing on Sundays and expat advice centres miles away, but Nicola enjoys the human contact this brings about. ‘I don’t go to buy food at the big shopping centres any more – I go directly to the farmer to buy what I need,’ he says. Far from finding it stifling, he likes the way everyone knows everyone else. In Goudswaard, he tells me, ‘people are not a number, they are people.’ Nicola has found people to be really friendly. ‘The perception that other people have of you depends also on the perception that you have of other people,’ he says. He has even taken the unusually orthodox step of abandoning Italian cuisine as part of his assimilation into Dutch life. ‘Every country has its own traditions and as an expat we have to respect it,’ he says. His advice: ‘Be open. Really, be open.’ Sushmita, over in Drenthe, has found being the only expat in the village has its advantages. Recently, at a local beer-tasting festival everyone realised immediately that she must be ‘Stefan’s wife’ and came over to introduce themselves. She has found her Dutch neighbours to be ‘helpful and accepting’. Like Nicola, her ‘biggest tip’ is ‘to be open’. But unlike Nicola, Sushmita is not giving up her native cuisine and mostly cooks Indian food at home. ‘I keep India in my heart and soul,’ she says. Her Indian heritage has even helped her adapt to her new way of life. ‘Westerbork is not really a village,’ she regularly teases her husband. ‘If you want to see a village, go to India and see a village.’  More >


DutchNews podcast – The Crime Doesn’t Pay Dividend Tax Edition – Week 42

DutchNews podcast – The Crime Doesn’t Pay Dividend Tax Edition – Week 42

Fireworks and firearms are to the fore in this week's podcast as we rake over the ashes of Rutte's dividend tax debacle, find out how police blew open a suspected terrorist cell in Arnhem, and reveal how Amsterdam plans to make New Year a less explosive occasion. Plus the Night Watch gets a very public makeover and for once there's plenty to cheer about in the sporting arena. In our discussion we look at how local mayors are increasingly being driven into hiding by mobsters. Ophef of the week: Twitterstorms and talking at concerts #hetisfokkingADE TOP STORY Rutte survives no confidence vote triggered by dividend tax debacle NEWS Details emerge of undercover police operation to infiltrate terror cell in Arnhem Dutch integration exam scrapped after questions are shared online Number of euthanasia deaths falls for first time since regulation began Rembrandt's Night Watch to be restored in full public view Amsterdam city council proposes banning New Year firework sales SPORT Oranje future looks brighter after results against Germany and Belgium DISCUSSION: MAYORS IN THE FIRING LINE Hundreds turn out for rally in support of threatened mayor of Haarlem Mayors to be given preventive security checks following wave of threats (Volkskrant) Rotterdam's mayor steps up security after serious death threat Geldermalsen drops plan for asylum seekers' accommodation centre after riots  More >


A cycling nation: how the bike impacts on Dutch society

A cycling nation: how the bike impacts on Dutch society

We all know that the Netherlands’ has world-leading bicycle infrastructure. But how does this affect us, the society that uses it? Joshua Parfitt delves into the benefits of being bike-friendly. Two mamils (middle aged man in lycra) arrive at a cafe in The Hague. The weather’s great and they proudly show off a digital map displaying bicycle routes, which when zoomed out makes the Netherlands look like a network of varicose veins. 'Ah it’s really nice here,' says Ivor, sipping his lungo. 'You’re separated from the cars, and it’s so flat. It’s impossible to drive on a country lane in England.' We’ve all heard the statistics about the Netherlands. Utrecht is building the world’s largest bike park, with 12,500 places. There are an estimated 1.3 bikes per person here, the most per capita in the world, and about 27% of all trips made are by bicycle — compared with 2% in Britain. Cycling can do wonders for the body. With 14.2% of the population classed as obese, the Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of obesity in Europe, only marginally up on Italy and Romania. In 2018 the Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis published a report which concluded 'cycling is an efficient way to prevent obesity', and can even prevent emotional conditions such as depression. Air quality But is it on the whole better for us? What use is it if we boost our cardiovascular health only to inhale poor quality air? Other research shows that replacing just 12% of short car trips with bicycle trips would add three to 14 months to one’s life. The effect of increased inhaled air pollution, however, would knock just 0.8 to 40 days off. And traffic accidents would claim just five to nine days. 'Societal benefits are even larger because of a modest reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and traffic accidents,' the report said, referring to the subsequent reduction in cars on the road by drivers choosing the saddle. Connectedness Cyclists are self-made adverts. You are tall, in full-view, and it doesn’t cost much energy to stop and have a natter. At least this is what the academic director of the Urban Cycling Institute (UCI) thinks — the UCI is a research platform within the Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam. In a 2017 paper titled Travelling together alone and alone together, Marco te Brömmelstroet and co-authors investigate how one’s mobile experiences influence the ability to 'develop a sense of connectedness' to society. He examines four modes of transport — driving a car, riding transit, cycling and walking — to see how they foster or curtail interaction with people and places. Compromises 'A car limits opportunities for interaction with the social and spatial environment for those inside,' Te Brömmelstroet told DutchNews.nl. Bikes, however, create far more  potential for interaction and connectedness, he says. 'This is because two-wheelers must constantly make compromises with other road users, which include pedestrians, unwitting tourists, taxi drivers, elderly cyclists, children on tricycles, lovers on mopeds and sometimes even ducks. We must engage with them all.' A Dutch cyclist has no hesitation to swear at a tram driver for getting in the way, which reflects something about social interaction and perhaps even democratic values: on a bicycle, everyone is visible and everyone is answerable or within earshot, no matter who they are. Democracy 'Cycling is part of the Dutch DNA,' says Shirley Agudo, photographer and author of Bicycle Mania Holland and The Dutch & Their Bikes. 'It's ingrained in the culture. The Dutch live and breathe cycling, from the time they are able to walk — starting with the 'loopfiets' — until very old age.' The Dutch, she says, literally grow up on bikes. They go out to dates on bikes. They go shopping, to school and to work on bikes. They go on holiday on bikes. They put their kids, dogs and groceries in baskets or into cargo bikes. Police even patrol the streets on bikes. And the Dutch enjoy their cycling long into retirement. 'Anybody can afford a bike [...] And as the Dutch are not ‘into’ status games, cycling becomes a very egalitarian means of transport,' argues Jacob Vossestein in his book Dealing with the Dutch. 'Exposed to wind and rain on a regular basis — drudging against gale force eight on unsheltered dyke roads [...] any difference in status or social stature between cyclists is soon eradicated... Whether an office clerk, bricklayer, captain of industry, prime minister or royalty — all cyclists have to bow to the elements.' King Perhaps this is why Mark Rutte caused an online sensation earlier this year when he arrived by bicycle at a meeting with king Willem-Alexander at his offices in The Hague. Does it have something to do with cycling, with it being visible, down-to-earth and among the people? Is it a conscious PR stunt, or intrinsic values finding two-wheeled expression? Either way, the bicycle stands proud as a symbol of health, connection and democracy. And with recent government plans to cut air pollution and traffic jams in the Netherlands, such as urging companies to pay employees 19 cents a kilometre if they travel to work by bike, this bike-mad country is likely to add environmental responsibility to the benefits of the bicycle.  More >


DutchNews.nl destinations: get a taste of the south in Venlo

DutchNews.nl destinations: get a taste of the south in Venlo

Venlo's strategic position on the river Maas, right on the border of Germany and the Netherlands, has made it a travellers' and merchants' crossroads since Roman times, and a central point in the final battles of WW2. Esther O'Toole has been checking out this very southern Dutch town. The urban regeneration after the war has allowed Venlo to grow into a bustling city today with a strong local culture and sense of place. And despite the wartime damage, it managed to preserve many historical buildings, like the imposing 'stadshuis' on the main square that dates from the end of the 1500s, and overlooks many welcoming cafe terraces in the summer. The city itself now has nearly 40,000 residents, with a similar number in the greater Venlo area since neighbouring Blerick and Tegelen were incorporated into the council region after the war. Currently, the city's most famous son is notorious Dutch politician Geert Wilders and the town has brought forth many a politician over the years, alongside singers, poets, footballers and philosophers. Things to do There are a few good museums in Venlo. The biggest, with a good range of activities for young and old, is the Limburgs Museum. Here you can take a deep dive into the cultural history of the borderland region from neanderthal times to the present day. The High Tech Romans interactive exhibition is on until January 2019. For something on a more intimate scale you could also try the beautiful Jean Laudy Museum Chapel - housed in a former orphanage chapel, the museum showcases the fine art of one of the city's most well-known portrait painters. For small adventurous types, all sorts of things to climb on and get into can be found at Playpark Little Switzerland*, an amusement park just to the south of the city, including (according to the Guinness Book of Records) Europe's highest swing and longest tubular-slide. It's large, affordable and they have special Halloween activities on all through October! So, for all those Halloween fanatics who think Sint Maarten just doesn't cut the spooky autumnal mustard - this could be just the thing. Open till the end of the first week of November. Want to make the most of the late autumn sunshine? Then head out of town to the south-east and, just across the border, you enter Het Brachter Wald. An area of natural, wooded, beauty that crosses between Holland and Germany. It is shut off to cars and perfect for a long walk, bike or horse ride. If you want to stick closer to town, then you can also try a nice long stroll along the river in the some 70 hectares of walking and biking terrain between Venlo and Velden. Theatre and music Alongside the touring Dutch theatre shows, de Maaspoort has a good range of musical acts for non-native speakers including regular appearances by the South-Dutch Philharmonic. This large, modern theatre, right in the centre of town, was completely renovated in 2013 and offers bars, restaurants and even overnight stays via the Theaterhotel If you're after something a little more contemporary you can head over to Poppodium Grenswerk* on the Peperstraat where, in addition to their workshops and regular dance parties, they have a lively performance scene with blues, jazz and rock acts. You´ll get visiting international artists such as US Blues/Rock icon Popa Chubby, popular Dutch radio stars like Nielson and er… the odd Rage Against the Machine tribute act. Eating Out There are plenty of options for dining, to suit all budgets. If you're making the most of the city shopping centre, then take a quick break at Beej Benders*, a boutique restaurant where all the produce is purchased directly from local farmers/producers. After eating you can buy ingredients in their grocery shop to take away and replicate your lunch at home. In-house pizza and sushi are some of their specialities. Looking for a craft beer and accompanying bite, then try De Klep*; in local dialect a so-called Preuf and Praotlokaal (taste and talk bar). You will definitely hear more of the local dialect around you while you sample some of their more than 100 beers. If however, you're looking to escape the bustle for a bit, or if you want to go upmarket, then you could try the Michelin star Hotel and Restaurant-Brasserie Valuas. Right on the riverside, just between the city and a nature reserve it´s a high-end, family run place with a lovely sunny terrace over the water; and, they too specialise in regional ingredients Where to Stay In addition to the two hotels already mentioned, the Maashof, Hotels & Suites just across the river in Blerick offers a range of different kinds of rooms, including family rooms; and you can book trips to amusement park Toverland (Sevenum) as part of your stay. For reasonable, comfortable and well-looked after b&b you could try Het Venloosplekje which has some modern twin rooms, also in the town centre; or the considerable offering on Airbnb if you like staying with locals. How to get there Venlo lies just off the A73 motorway, which runs south from Nijmegen to Maastricht. It's about an hour's drive from either of these. By rail: it is on the line from Nijmegen to Maastricht, and the stop-train in either direction also takes about an hour. When to visit The famous German beer festival, Oktoberfest (which usually runs in Munich from around 22nd Sept - 7th October turning the city into a mecca for lovers of beer and Bavarian hats) also means many spin-off events in the south of both Germany and the Netherlands. Between October 19 and 21 there is a massive Oktoberfest party in nearby Arcen for instance, and in Venlo itself there is a big, Oktoberfest, pub-crawl on October 20. If you are a craft beer enthusiast with a loud singing voice it may be for you, if not… you have been warned!  More >


The word is out: Spoken word poetry in English comes to the Netherlands

The word is out: Spoken word poetry in English comes to the Netherlands

Spoken Word – a performance art where words are conveyed to an audience in poetry, rap or music – is powerful, accessible and diverse. Deborah Nicholls-Lee shines a spotlight on the emerging English-language scene in the Netherlands. In a curtained-off room lined with books and posters, in the back of a west Amsterdam bar, a blond woman in a floral dress bobs around the microphone nervously. She ties herself up in knots with disclaimers about the spoken word poetry she is about to perform. ‘It’s super short – no worries – and it doesn’t have a title. I don’t know, I’m not good with titles...’ ‘Do it!’, ‘Just do it!’ holler two voices from the audience – more supportive than impatient. The piece is heard, and there’s a cooing ‘aaaah!’, a cheer, and a warm, enthusiastic round of applause. Community This event, organised by Word Up, is one of a clutch of English-language spoken word events which have popped up in Amsterdam over the last couple of years and are edging their way to other parts of the Netherlands. With many located in the back rooms and basements of lesser-known venues, there is an underground feel to this small-scale scene and an intimacy between the sympathetic audience and the – often novice – participants. Founder of laid-back Word Up and of Outspoken, its more curated big sister, Evelina Kvartūnaitė understands the special relationship between audience and artist at these events. She once saw members of the crowd flock to the stage to hug an artist who had just shared for the first time her traumatic experience of rape. ‘That was the catharsis for me,’ she says. ‘It’s the moments [like that] that really open you up and make you feel like a community.’ As they sat side by side on the kitchen floor at 3am, it was a friend’s heartfelt and unexpected recital of his personal poetry that kickstarted the venture: ‘He kind of bloomed, you know?’ she explains enthusiastically. ‘Let’s make you a space to perform - you’re amazing,’ she told him. And when she found that no such platform existed for English speakers, she decided to start something herself. Inclusivity With most events donation only or charging a minimal fee, spoken word prioritises inclusivity over profit and aims to attract a diverse line-up and audience. Alongside co-organiser, rapper and spoken word artist BLESZ, who hosts the nights, Kvartūnaitė tries to create a ‘living room feel’ and put newcomers at ease. ‘If someone is scared I’m not going to put them on the spot,’ she says. ‘I’m going to make sure they feel comfortable.’ Artists’ treatment of the genre is skilled and varied. On the nights I attended, performances included raps about social history and racism; candid, hard-to-hear lines about loneliness; and celebrative narratives about rampant love making - one executed with jaw-dropping brilliance by Margo van de Linde. Performers were men and women of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds. Being able to speak across all the things that we look at as separation within such a diverse group, says Kvartūnaitė, helps show how universal our experiences are. ‘We have people who come from abroad; we have people who are born in Amsterdam, who live in Amsterdam or who just arrived in Amsterdam: students, workers, mothers, stay-at-home mothers, business people. It’s a wide variety. I really appreciate that,’ she says. English Communicating in English, Kvartūnaitė believes, is also a pathway to inclusivity. ‘The audience we have is so diverse; you lose half of the room when you start performing in Dutch.’ Spoken word artist Sydney Lowell (21) is Dutch but prefers to write and perform in English. ‘I don’t connect with Dutch as much as I do with English,’ she tells me. ‘Creatively, I feel way more limited writing Dutch and I feel like the language doesn’t serve what I want to say as much as English does.’ Though she has been writing poetry since the age of 16, she has only been performing for a year. ‘I didn’t see why I should [perform] before. I didn’t really think of it. And then, last year, I realised that I had such a huge urge to share it because I’m such an expressive person and I felt like I was holding myself back by not sharing this piece of myself.’ Lowell discovered poetry and Shakespeare through the Twilight movies when she was 11. Later, when she was bored in class, she would jot things down to document the moment. ‘Those were just random thoughts, just words, not even sentences sometimes,’ she says. ‘I kept on doing that and those turned into poems eventually.’ Self-expression On stage, Lowell is unusually poised and calculated for someone so young. She unpicks patriarchy and calls out racism, creating unease, while still her strong stage presence makes it hard to look away. ‘When I take that stage,’ she tells me, ‘or whatever place it may be, it just feels like I am utterly myself … I feel excited. I feel very rooted as well. I’ve never been nervous, I’ve always been excited just because I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing … I just feel that I’m in the right place, doing the right thing.’ Kvartūnaitė understands this. Her events were born of ‘a deep longing to give space to people to express themselves.’ Spoken word, she says, is ‘about people being supported while vulnerable’.  ‘It’s a means for people to accept themselves and grow’. Spoken word events in English in the Netherlands AMSTERDAM ABC Open Mic A forum for artists to go public with their poem, song or book. Located in a bookshop in central Amsterdam. Labyrinth A cocktail bar in Amsterdam Zuid serving Caribbean food which runs a variety of poetry events including open mic night on a Monday in Dutch, English and French. Mezrab Located on the IJhaven, the venue hosts storytelling on Wednesday and Friday nights and Verso, a live literary magazine, five times a year. Outspoken A curated line-up of more established artists alongside one selected emerging talent. Performances involve visual art, beats or music. PoeTree A meet-up for young, ethnically diverse spoken word artists in the Vondelpark. Hosted by Sydney Lowell and Jemairo Scoop. Soul Food Poetry Organises a regular event called ‘Knock Knock’, hosted in the UK and in Amsterdam West at Volta. Word Up An evening where anyone can sign up to perform whatever the level of experience. THE HAGUE Crossing Border Festival An international Spoken Word festival taking place in The Hague 29/10/18-4/11/18. ROTTERDAM Poetry International A great information source for poetry events, many of which are in English. Organises an annual festival in May/June where many international poets perform. ARNHEM Slamtastic These performance poetry championships or ‘slams’, take place once a month in a café in the small town of Wageningen, just outside Arnhem.  More >


DutchNews podcast – The Pitchforks and Pindakaas Edition – Week 41

DutchNews podcast – The Pitchforks and Pindakaas Edition – Week 41

It's been a week of departures as D66 leader Alexander Pechtold handed over the reins to Rob Jetten, Mark Rutte pulled the plug on his dividend tax plan, Unilever rowed back from Rotterdam and the Zwarte Piet motorway blockers had to leave their clogs at the door. Plus Bibian Mentel hangs up her snowboard as she reveals she's been diagnosed with cancer for the 10th time. In our discussion we take a look at the ongoing efforts to reunite artworks stolen by the Nazis during World War II with their rightful owners. SOUNDCLOUD TOP STORY Alexander Pechtold quits as D66 leader, Rob Jetten becomes youngest party leader NEWS Cabinet puts dividend tax plan on hold after Unilever turns back on Rotterdam Trial begins of motorway blockaders who stopped Zwarte Piet protest King regrets Brexit as Rutte holds talks with Merkel in The Hague Animal shelter seeks new home for lion cub abandoned in field SPORT Dutch women one step away from World Cup qualification after beating Denmark Bibian Mentel announces retirement as cancer returns for 10th time DISCUSSION: REDRESSING THE NAZI ART HEIST Dutch museums find 170 works of potentially stolen art in national audit Full list of works suspected of being stolen between 1933 and 1945 Website of the Restitutions Committee Lynn H. Nichols: The Rape of Europa (bol.com)  More >


Rotterdam awakes as Amsterdam’s property market overheats

Rotterdam awakes as Amsterdam’s property market overheats

Expats are shunning the crowded, overpriced capital and heading south to buy property in Rotterdam. We find out why house buyers cannot afford to overlook Rotterdam.    Richardo Cruz Fortes, mortgage advisor at Expat Mortgages, foresaw, like many others, what is happening in the Rotterdam property market today. ‘What I’ve been calling Rotterdam for years now is “the sleeping giant”,’ he tells me. Rotterdam has everything you’d expect a large city to offer, Richardo explains, but has long played second fiddle to Amsterdam. As the capital’s property market overheats and public and private investment pours into our second city, all eyes are on Rotterdam as the giant now awakes. Founded in 2007 in Amsterdam, Expat Mortgages has been expanding its offices across the Netherlands as demand for housing outside the capital has risen. The opening of a Rotterdam branch in 2018 is a sign that expat investors and home-seekers are becoming more aware of the huge amount the city has to offer. Headquarters Hosting the headquarters of big players such as Robeco, Eneco, Van Oord and Shell Downstream, and Unilever's Dutch operations, Rotterdam is an established business hub with great job opportunities. Centres of innovation and excellence, such as the TUDelft and Erasmus University, help support the demands of industry and attract young talent to the area. Tourism is also flourishing. Drawn to the museums, the night life and the iconic modern architecture, visitor numbers increased by 18% between 2017 and 2018. With an estimated cost of living at 11% lower than Amsterdam, it is unsurprising that expats are now turning to Rotterdam to find a home. ‘I’m an Amsterdam guy myself,’ laughs Richardo, ‘I lived there my whole life, but you need to step out of the bubble … to see the potential of living in another city with all the same facilities that Amsterdam has.’ His clients at Expat Mortgages receive comprehensive guidance through the process of buying a house in the Netherlands, including an assessment of their eligibility for a mortgage, both for buy-to-let and for personal use. Since Rotterdam properties cost on average just €2-4,000 per square meter – cheaper than The Hague and Utrecht, and around half what you can expect to pay in Amsterdam – expat customers seeking more space close to Rotterdam city centre or in striking distance from The Hague are getting much more for their money. Even Amsterdam is just a 40-minute commute by train. ‘More and more people are considering Rotterdam as a better opportunity for a family to live,’ says Richardo. Highly-educated clients with a good salary and decent savings are still finding themselves priced out of the capital, he explains. An influx of expat families is anticipated in Rotterdam and the municipality is currently discussing plans for more international schools. Supply The supply of housing is also good in Rotterdam, meaning more choice and less competition when bidding on a house. ‘There’s a lot available.’ says Wil Jansen of Rotterdam-based estate agency @WORK Makerlaardij. ‘There are houses, there are apartments, there are skyscrapers – everything is there and it’s on the market.’ Just east of the centre, and popular with expats, is the upscale neighbourhood of Kralingen with its smart villas, leafy streets and boating lake. In Noord, the up-and-coming Blijdorp district, best known for its zoo, is quieter and more affordable than the Stadsdriehoek (city centre). Further out, Hillegersberg is surrounded by lakes and green spaces and offers accommodation to suit all budgets. Katendrecht, on the south bank of the Nieuwe Maas river, was once famous for its brothels, but redevelopment has transformed it into a popular spot for culture and dining. But the smart money is heading even further south, where a new stadium, music hall and conference centre are indicative of a huge investment in an area which is gentrifying fast. House prices in Rotterdam increased by 27% in the last two years and continue to rise. The giant has woken, and now expats begin to do so too. Prospective buyers may need to act fast. To find out more about the services offered by Expat Mortgages, contact the team here.  More >


For sale in Amsterdam, family homes in a very green building

For sale in Amsterdam, family homes in a very green building

A family home in one of the greenest buildings in Amsterdam and which won't set you back more in mortgage payments than you would pay in rent? A home with its own garden and great views, which is just a few minutes from Schiphol airport and the city centre? Too good to be true? Next year, developer Heijmans will start work on Vertical, a new residential project in Amsterdam west, which, the company says, is the place for modern families who want the convenience of city living but are interested reducing their environmental footprint as much as possible. The first tranche of homes has already been sold but the second batch is now up for grabs. You can sign up via the Amsterdam Vertical website. Bike-friendly A short bike ride from Amsterdam's Westerpark and the 'real' countryside, Vertical will have 144 homes ranging from compact garden lofts to family homes with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. So far, so good. But the Vertical project is special for a number of reasons. Firstly it is extremely green, in terms of both energy efficiency and plants and nature. The homes will be kept warm by geo-thermal heat pumped from under the ground, while the 19th floor roof has a wind turbine and solar panels. Then come the vertical gardens. Each home has its own outdoor space and these spaces are linked together in a single planting scheme covering the complex. These vertical gardens will be kept watered by a computer-driven automatic system, using rainwater that has been collected via the green roof. The building will also include 200 nest boxes for swallows and other wildlife. 'The aim is to get as close to nature as possible,' says landscape architect Fred Booy of DS Landscape Architects, who designed the planting. 'It will create something substantial for the city in the form of a new ecosystem.' Mixed population Unlike many new developments focusing on housing for 'young professionals' or 'starters' Vertical is attracting a wide variety of people, including many internationals. 'What makes this project so special is that it has been designed by four different architects and a landscape architect,' says Heijmans' Raymond Raadtgever. 'This means we have so many different types of home, from studios for starters to family homes and apartments specially designed for people who work from home. We are creating a really mixed community.' The project is the first of a number of new developments close to Sloterdijk station which have been sanctioned by the city to try to ease the shortage of homes. In total, the Haven-Stad project will have up to 70,000 homes when completed. In line with modern trends, Vertical will also have shared community spaces on the ground and sixth floorsl making the complex an inspiring and pleasant place to live. In total, 800m2 has been set aside for shared facilities, including restaurants and cafes, small businesses, flex-working spaces, an area for fitness and yoga, and cooking or dining in a private setting. Friends and family can even stay the night in two comfortable 'hotel rooms', and there is space to celebrate special occasions with family and friends. The building is just 50 metres from Sloterdijk station which has connections to all over the country, including Schiphol airport (11 minutes) and Zuidas (14 minutes), soon to be home to the European Medicines Agency. The garage under the property will have space for 65 cars as well as two electric cars which can be rented by residents, and, being the Netherlands, space for 200 bicycles. After all, Vertical is also an easy bike ride from the city centre. Of course, all this comes at a price. Family homes with all the facilities cost upwards of €495,000, but the payback comes in the form of lower energy bills and, points out Raymond Raadtgever, the mortgage payments will be no more than the rent of a family home in a less convenient location. 'The housing market is booming and, however you look at it, a home in Vertical is a good investment,' he says. The first tranche of homes has already been sold but the second batch is now up for grabs. You can sign up via the Amsterdam Vertical website.  More >


13 things you have to know about the 80 Years War

13 things you have to know about the 80 Years War

It is 450 years since the start of the 80 Years War (1568-1648) and the Rijksmuseum has made it the subject of a major new exhibition. Here's what you need to know about why this was such an important event in Dutch history Who was fighting who and why? It was Netherlands versus Spain. The Netherlands of the 16th century was a patchwork of 17 gewesten ( areas ruled by nobles) stretching to the French border and including what is now Luxemburg and Belgium. It formed part of the Catholic Spanish empire and the Dutch, already chafing at the bit, became more contrary by the minute as freedom of religion was reigned in - ie Protestantism was under attack. Rumblings of war To begin with the Dutch nobles, led by William of Orange, asked the local Spanish powers nicely but the persecution of Protestants continued. In 1566 a group of protestant started smashing up Catholic churches in the south of the Netherlands, in what became known as the ‘Beeldenstorm’ (‘storming of the images’) or Great Iconoclasm. The Spanish then unleashed the Duke of Alva and an army of 10,000 on the Netherlands. Taxes and revolt More Protestants bit the dust under the Spanish duke who also imposed punishing taxes, a move that may perhaps have infuriated the Dutch even more. When two Dutch nobles pinched part of Groningen from the Spanish throne at the Battle of Heiligerlee in 1568, the war started in earnest. Geuzen By then the anti-Spanish resistance fighters had a name: the Geuzen. Originally the French word Gueaux meant good-for-nothings but the name soon became a badge of honour. There were Watergeuzen and Bosgeuzen, depending on their sphere of action. The Watergeuzen won the first sea battle and went on to take a number of cities, among which Den Briel on April 1, 1572. Spanish Fury A back and forth of battles ensued with territory gained and territory lost. Meanwhile Spain had run out of money and mutineering Spanish troops ransacked Antwerp. The Spanish Fury of 1576 killed 8,000 people and burned down most of the town. That was it: the nobles proclaimed William of Orange their leader and vowed to chase off the Spanish oppressor. Unie van Atrecht/Utrecht But not all nobles agreed. The southern Netherlands wanted some peace and quiet and signed the Unie van Atrecht in 1579 which entailed jolly tapas and vino with the Spanish and Catholicism as the only religion. The northern nobles could not accept and signed their own treaty, called the Unie van Utrecht. That meant the southern and the northern Netherlands were no longer one. Plakkaat van Verlatinghe Here we come to a document that the present king sees as the true Dutch ‘birth certificate’. In exchange for French help to reunite the country, the northern nobles signed the Plakkaat of Verlatinghe (document of leave taking) declaring their separation from Spain. It is seen as a precursor of the Dutch constitution. The year is 1581, still almost 70 years to go. Murder and mayhem The French efforts came to nought and the Spanish declared William of Orange an outlaw. He fled to Delft where he was shot by Balthasar Gerards, a Frenchman with strong Catholic sympathies. Gerards was caught and tortured horribly but refused to say if he acted on anyone’s orders. Republic In 1588 statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and his supporters decided that the country did not need a king but should be ruled by the Staten-Generaal, the body in which representatives of the gewesten were united. This was the beginning of the Dutch Republic.  Prince Maurits, second son of William of Orange was nominated stadtholder and turned out to be a very canny and successful military leader. Turfschip van Breda One of his most famous exploits is a version of the Trojan horse, in 1590. The Spanish in Breda in the south of the Netherlands needed fuel desperately and a peat dealer obliged, except that the ship that dropped anchor in the port also carried 75 of Maurits’ soldiers. They escaped detection even when one of them was seized by an uncontrollable cough. He asked his companions to run him through with a sword but they refused, presumably preferring to thump him on the back. The ruse was a resounding success and Breda was taken. Truce In 1604 the war stopped for 12 years. But there was trouble at home. Van Oldenbarnevelt, founder of the East India Company, wanted the truce to hold to further trade while Maurits wanted to carry on fighting. Maurits then staged a coup and had Van Oldenbarnevelt stand trial on trumped-up charges of treason. As he mounted the scaffold to be executed the 71-year-old used a stick to lean on. The stokske van Oldenbarnevelt later became the subject of a poem by Vondel and a symbol of the injustice of his trial. Zilvervloot In 1621 the war started once again but by then Maurits was dead and his place taken by Frederik Hendrik, the stedendwinger, or enforcer of cities. One of the reasons he could take one city after another - and carry out some necessary maintenance work on a couple of estates - was a coup by East India captain Piet Hein who boldly captured ‘La Flota’, a fleet of Spanish ships  laden with silver, hence Zilvervloot. Hein’s name lives on in a song that every Dutch child knows: Piet Hein, zijn naam is klein, zijn daden benne groot, hij heeft gewonnen de Zilvervloot. (His name is small, his deeds are great, he won the silver fleet). Treaty of Münster On May 15 1648, Spain recognised the Republic. The war was finally over (as was the 30 Years’ war that had raged in Europe at the same time). From 12 October 2018 to 20 January 2019, satirical cartoons, items of clothing, weapons and paintings by Bruegel, Rubens and Ter Borch will be our tell the story of how the Dutch nation was born at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.   More >


Blogwatching: The best flexible work spots in Hilversum for freelancers

Blogwatching: The best flexible work spots in Hilversum for freelancers

The Bitterballenbruid moved to Hilversum in 2014 and has been living there with her Dutch husband and her cat ever since. She writes about about Hilversum and ‘t Gooi area, eating too many bitterballen, getting married in Holland, learning how to be Dutch… and the language on her blog The Bitterballenbruid.  Freelancer? Remote worker? Me too! (The latter.) I often work from my office at home, but sometimes you need to get out of the house! Maybe you need some human interaction… or even just a good coffee! Enter the coffee shop… no, not that kind!! We’re in the Netherlands but I’m talking beverages here!! Freelancers need a good cafe where they can hang out and work… somewhere with strong wifi and equally strong coffee… I’ve visited A LOT of cafes in Hilversum over my 4 years of working from home, so let me share my favourite spots with you: 1. MOUT If you follow me on Instagram, you will know I’m here, A LOT. And why? Because it’s so damn good. Food halls are fantastic concepts in general but here it’s done really well. Drinks are ordered at your table by waiting staff, and food is ordered at each individual food stall using your table number. A lot of food halls require queuing and waiting for your food, but here they will bring it to your table as soon as it’s ready. Simple and effective. The choice is massive, from Vietnamese food to salads, Italian to fish and chips, to Latin American food and Dim Sum. They really have it all. My personal tip: the sweet potato fries with Parmesan and basil mayo are THE ONE!! Oh and there’s free, open wifi, a water dispenser, and the place is massive so there’s loads of seating to choose from, inside and out. (They also do bitterballen, but not very good ones unfortunately… ) Mouthilversum.nl | Naarderstraat 8 2. Bagels & Beans It can get a little noisy in here, so it depends what kind of work you’re doing. I can’t go here when I’m working on spreadsheets!! But other than that, it’s a good bet. The food is delicious, the wifi works and it’s split on 3 levels so you’ll almost always find a place to sit. The best thing on the menu is without a doubt the Paddo burger (mushroom burger). They have gluten free and low gluten bagels and there are lactose free options too. Everyone’s a winner. Bagelsbeans.nl | Kerkstraat 3 3. Presto Coffee & More This is a cute little place slightly out of the centre. Which is good, because generally it means it’s quieter than the other places I’ve mentioned so far. The wifi is good and the interior is really cool – industrial meets homely. Bag yourself a seat on the turquoise sofa if you can!! There’s also plenty of outside seating but unfortunately not much view to speak of. They have gluten and lactose free options and a page of specials, so there’s always something new to try. The banana bread (gluten/lactose/sugar free) comes highly recommended! 😀 Presto Facebook page (no website) | Herenstraat 20 4. Your Coffee I think everyone in Hilversum knows this place… hence it’s always packed! But you can usually find a table as there’s loads of seating inside (2 levels) and out. There’s also a section / play area for kids upstairs… but this post is about remote working, so moving swiftly on!! If you’ve built up an appetite whilst working they do an excellent Buddha bowl and the chicken thighs with spelt bread is also really good! There’s no service upstairs, but if you can’t be bothered to walk downstairs to order they have these little notes where you can write your order and then put it inside a ball and drop it down a drainpipe-esque chute! A fun way to order and it works!! Yourcoffeehilversum.nl | Kerkstraat 38A 5. Doppio Espresso I went here this week and had a Bountyccino!! OMG. And it’s lactose free… WIN! There’s a terrace outside and plenty of space to sit inside. It’s actually quite deceptive just how large it is inside, so I doubt you’ll ever struggle to find space. Lots of staff so service is attentive. Recommended! Doppioespresso.nl | ‘s-Gravelandseweg 14 So, those 5 are all in Hilversum but if you fancy going a bit further afield I can also suggest the following: 6. Heidezicht This place has also featured on my Instagram account a fair few times recently! To be honest I haven’t worked here yet – but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t! The location is great, in the middle of the Hei (heathland) hence the name… and it’s just a lovely, peaceful place to hang out. Not too many food options on the menu, but the charcuterie platter (pictured above) is pretty good. In terms of borrelhapjes (for once you’ve finished working, as it’s open til 8pm): the garnalenkroketjes are good (8/10), bitterballen are ok (7/10) but unfortunately the groentekroketjes are decidedly average (5/10). Heidezicht.nl | Randweg 203, Bussum 7. Theehuis ‘t Bluk This place also has a great view. It’s *technically* located in Laren but from Hilversum it’s a nice walk or cycle through the Hei to get to it! Good wifi and menu – the borrelplanken are very good – especially the cheese one! Service can be a bit hit and miss… but hey, we’re in Holland remember! Bluk.nl | Zuiderheide 2, Laren 8. Brambergen I’m a sucker for a view!! What can I say!? This place is also located a bit out-of-the-way in ‘s-Graveland. But it’s well worth the drive or cycle as you’re surrounded by nature! I wouldn’t recommend walking from Hilversum because it’s too far, about an hour walk according to Google. It’s situated right next to the visitor centre for the Natuurmonumenten – “Nature Monuments’ (jeez, how do you translate that?!) Here it is in Dutch anyhoo: Bezoekerscentrum Gooi en Vechtstreek – Natuurmonumenten) It can get a little busy at times, but usually it’s quiet enough to work. (Tip: avoid Wednesday afternoons as many kids are off school then and it does get rammed!) The kaasstengels are excellent and they also do gluten/lactose/sugar free banana bread! Brambergen.nl | Noordereinde 54d, ‘s-Graveland This blog was first published on Bitterballenbruid.  Every month we feature a blog post from one of our favourite bloggers. Interested? See if your blog meets the criteria to be included on the site.  More >


Buy bulbs and spot bare bums: 15 great things to do in October

Buy bulbs and spot bare bums: 15 great things to do in October

The nights are drawing in and the autumn half-term holidays are approaching - but there are lots of great things to do in October. Why not listen to a Pulitzer prize winning journalist or go mushroom spotting, or even take in a play? Look at a Leonardo The Teyler's museum in Haarlem proudly presents the first big exhibition featuring Leonardo da Vinci's drawings in the Netherlands. The museum has squirreled together 30 drawings from various museums around the world for an exhibition focusing on how far Leonardo was ahead of his time. From October 5. Website Chase some (vicarious) thrills If you are the sporty type you will enjoy the European Outdoor Tour, a travelling series of films on mountaineering daring-do and other dangerous feats involving skis and wingsuits. October 10 -30 in theatres all over the country. Website Get your bulbs at the Keukenhof Where would you go for bulbs but the Keukenhof. And they’re not your run-of-the-mill bulbs either, the Keukenhof promises. If you’re a bit of a horticultural show-off but have no idea how to look after your rare blooms there are gardeners on hand to tell you. The bulb market is on at October 5 and 6. Website Grab a band and a bite The Residentie Orkest and the Zuiderstrandtheater in The Hague are presenting the Wanderlust festival, a music fest where the audience is invited to wander around and sample jazz, pop and classical music as the moods takes them while tucking into an array of tasty snacks and drinks. With, among others  Anneke van Giersbergen, Sven Figee, Nino Gvetadze, Zuco 103, and Tim Kliphuis. October 12. Website Go back to the Amsterdamse School You have just time to catch the work of goldsmith and metal worker George Henri Lantman (1875-1933). Lantman made clocks, lamps, vases and many more objects in the distinctive style of the architectural movement Amsterdamse School. The Jan van der Togtmuseum in Amstelveen houses an exquisite collection of contemporary glass art and is worth a visit just for that. Until October 7. Website Experience some experiments One for eggheads young and old: the annual science weekend gives people a peep behind the scenes of laboratories and research centres where Nobel prizes are being earned. There are plenty of serious and amusing activities to choose from. How about  finding out a bit more about why we are eating too much, for example (as if we didn’t know), or taking a look at the science behind restoring a Van Gogh?  October 6 and 7. Website Find out why the Dutch have always been revolting October is History month with (Dutch) history related events galore. This year’s theme is Opstand, which translates as revolt or rebellion, with exhibitions on protest movements past and present, the Eighty Years’ War, the resistance movement of the Second World War and much, much more. Take your pick from a wide-ranging programme. Until October 31. Website Witness the one time the Dutch beat Spain The Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam is mounting a big exhibition on the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) and the events that led to ‘the birth’ of the Netherlands. (You can read up on the important bits on DN on October 3) Enjoy the paintings and objects that give the period life today, including works by Bruegel, Rubens and Terborch. From October 12. Website See what the Romans did for us A special treat: the recently uncovered Roman road near Valkenburg is on show during the Nationale archeologiedagen. It is 150 metres long and is - partly- in tip-top condition. You can go along and have a look at it on Saturday October 13, or check out some other sites on October 12-14. Website Spot a 'bare bum' mushroom October is mushroom month and the Ennemaborg estate in Midwolde in Groningen is organising its annual mushroom festival. You can explore the 250 kinds of mushroom (among which the 'bare bum' mushroom) on the estate on your own or with a guide. October 14. Website Get the low-down on the US vote Pulitzer Prize-winning Amercan journalist Jonathan Capehart is coming to Amsterdam to talk about the upcoming midterm elections in the United States. Will the Republicans retain the Senate and will the Democrats bag the House? And can they then stump Trump? Nailbiting stuff at the Johns Adams Institute on October 18. Website Get some sand between your toes Parents, why not drag your children to Panorama Mesdag in The Hague this herfstvakantie? It's an outing all Dutch children have to endure at some time in their young lives so why not get it over with? Seriously though, this 360 degree panorama of the Scheveningen beach and dune area, which dates from the 19th century, is actually good fun and you can always go down to the beach afterwards to see what's changed. Website http://www.panorama-mesdag.nl/english/ Marvel at Le Foulard The English Theatre in The Hague presents Le Foulard, a one-woman show by comedian Lucy Hopkins whose wonderfully elastic features (and a shawl) transform her into many characters in a great send up of artistic pretentiousness. October 11,12 and 13. Website Ogle a classic beauty In Amsterdam's Hermitage the long-running exhibition Classic Beauties explores the neo-classicist rage for imitating classic sculpture. Perfectly proportioned and not a marble hair out of place, it is no wonder dicatators love the style, as the Volkskrant put it. But it is not only perfect tits and bums: the museum provides plenty of context, such as the 18th century archaeological digs in Italy and the phenomenon of the Grand Tour. Until Jan 13. Website Bump into a cow at night Another good one for kids (and their parents) are the guided struintochten or hikes around the Waal river area near Slot Loevestijn where Konik horse roam and some pretty big cows.  All you need are sturdy, waterproof (!) boots. There is even a nighttime hike where only the guide has a torch...Day time hikes are on October 17 and 24, the nighttime hike is on October 27. Website   More >


First Dutch online second-hand car dealership cleans up industry image

First Dutch online second-hand car dealership cleans up industry image

You can now buy a second-hand car and have it delivered to your door with a few clicks of the mouse. We find out why expats are embracing online car shopping. It sounds counter-intuitive to spend thousands of euros on a car you haven’t seen, but Bynco, the Netherlands’ first 100% online second-hand car dealership, has seen sales soar since it launched in 2017. ‘I was genuinely amazed when it turned up outside my house. Right until the last moment, I was thinking, ‘this is an internet scam’,’ says British expat Paul Hoban, a project manager from Groningen, who bought his Audi A4 Station Wagon on Bynco in May. Family members were also dubious. Paul’s mother-in-law told him that his money was as good as lost. But Paul had seen that the funds went into a third-party account hosted by GoCredible, which reassured him. All cars are independently inspected by DEKRA and the Thuiswinkel symbol on the website also demonstrates that the business meets high standards for online shopping. He decided to take give it a go. ‘I was like, ‘Well, I buy a bike online, I buy clothes online, we go to the supermarket online, why not?’’ Online is the new standard Mark Boekraad, Bynco’s e-commerce manager, admits that people are still ‘a bit scared’ of buying a car 100% online, but insists that ‘online buying of cars will be the new standard’. ‘If you want to buy a second-hand car in the Netherlands, it’s quite complicated,’ he says. In order to see the car, you need to visit the owner or dealership. ‘It could be that your dream car is 100km away.’ None of the cars Paul found advertised was close to his home in Groningen. ‘Most of what I was looking for was down in the Randstad,’ he says. That Bynco included delivery in the price was a big time-saver for him. He went to the website, set his search specifications and perused the 360-degree interior and exterior photos of available cars. No haggling Far from being a scam site, Bynco has done everything it can to distance itself from the untrustworthy image associated with car sales. ‘Everybody knows the cliché about car salesmen with their slick suits, trying to negotiate – and we are totally different from that,’ says Mark. ‘Our mission is to be as transparent as possible about everything, on every step of the journey.’ A key part of this is removing the need to haggle, which is particularly daunting for non-Dutch speakers. ‘I liked the fact that they go fixed price,’ says Paul. ‘If you take the price haggle out of the equation, it becomes a much nicer experience.’ Bynco’s price includes delivery, 180 days warranty, and a 14-day test-drive period with free return of the vehicle if you change your mind. Finance and vehicle trade-ins can also be arranged. Since the company launched, just three cars have been returned during the 14-day test-drive period. Buying online does not mean that there’s no human contact. The team are happy to talk on the phone or answer questions over email or on the messenger service on their website. Popular with expats ‘We see a lot of extra traffic from expats to our website,’ says Mark. Some expats even order their car while abroad and arrange delivery to coincide with their relocation. An unusual part of the online service is that the delivery person not only talks clients through the car, but also goes to the RDW (vehicle registration office) with them to sort out the paperwork. This can be very reassuring for newcomers. Paul had lived in many countries before landing in the Netherlands and was pleased to discover that his Norwegian driving licence posed no problem since the company were used to dealing with foreigners. A perennial expat, Paul is fully aware of the strains of relocation. ‘In those first couple of months, you have to sort school, a house, everything – and it’s all under a time pressure.’ Buying a car online may be new and slightly daunting, but Paul has since decided that it’s ‘a genius idea’. ‘It’s just one off the tick list that’s easy to solve,’ he says. Visit the Bynco website to contact the team and learn more about buying a used car online.  More >


The Dutch Film Festival goes English: blockbusters with subtitles galore

The Dutch Film Festival goes English: blockbusters with subtitles galore

The annual Dutch Film Festival in Utrecht, which culminates in country's most prestigious film awards, is making a big drive to attract an international audience this year, by subtitling many of the film screenings, including several box office hits. Here’s what you should know about the upcoming festival and a selection of what's on offer. 1 The Nederlands Film Festival is a Dutch institution and has been around since 1981. Cocking a snook at Amsterdam, Utrecht has traditionally been the venue for the film fest. This year the dates to save are September 27 to October 5. 2  The film festival is taking the English speaking contingent seriously: there are over 50 subtitled film screenings – including a number of blockbusters, prize-winning documentaries and festival premieres. Here’s the complete programme. 3 One of the must-sees is De Bankier van het Verzet  (The resistance banker, 2018) directed by Joram Lürsen, which follows a long tradition of Dutch wartime films, such as Paul Verhoeven’s Zwartboek and Fons Rademaker’s De Aanslag. It tells the true story of resistance hero Walraven van Hall who financed the resistance by ‘robbing’ the central bank with the approval of the Dutch government in exile. The film is the Netherlands' entry for next year’s Oscars for best foreign film. 4 Talking of statues, the film festival’s ultimate prize is a Gouden Kalf, or Golden Calf. ‘Berlin has bears, Venice has lions. Why don’t we have calves,’ said film director Wim Verstappen, perhaps half-jokingly, when pondering a suitable prize. It is actually a charming statue, made by sculptor Theo Mackaay. 4 People who live in Amsterdam will have already had the opportunity to see a subtitled version of Wild Amsterdam (directed by Mark Verkerk), about the wild creatures living in the capital. But for those who have not this is a rare treat. Keep an eye out for the wily yet dignified herons who stalk the fish stalls on Dappermarkt come five o’clock. 5 Among the festival premieres is My Foolish Heart, a fanciful account of a detective who while investigating the circumstances of jazz musician Chet Baker’s death in Amsterdam in 1988 embarks on a personal journey as well. Directed by Rolf van Eijk. 6 The Dutch are good at documentary making and Hoop & Heimwee (Hope & Homesickness, directed by Eline Flipse) promises to live up to that reputation. It tells the timely story of Polish migrant workers in the villages of the Noordoostpolder, their hopes, aspirations and life in a frequently hostile environment. 7 Apart from films, documentaries and tv programmes, the festival also organises talks in English about a variety of subjects, such as virtual reality and other new technologies while the Brave New World Sessions present new interactive work. There is also a programme for film industry professionals. 8 And for those who are mastering Dutch or are already fluent, here’s one we did earlier.  More >


The government is reforming the tax system: here is what you need to know

The government is reforming the tax system: here is what you need to know

On Tuesday, the government published its 2019 spending plans, which include several changes to the tax system likely to have an impact on expats. In particular, we now know the government will not introduce a transition period for people claiming the 30% ruling. The government plans to introduce a number of changes to the tax system this year, although some measures will not come into effect until 2020 or later. Here’s a quick overview of the proposed changes. These will need to be ratified by the parliament and senate before they come into effect. 1 30% ruling Plan: This is the most awkward one for many expats. The maximum term of the 30%-ruling will decrease to five years and there will be no transition period. When will the change take effect: 1 January 2019 What does it mean to you: If you have already had the 30%-ruling for more than five years, the ruling will stop on January 1, 2019. For others the ruling will cease once your five years is up. It is important to be aware of the impact of the 30% ruling ending on your assets! As long as you or your partner makes use of the 30% ruling, assets – with the exemption of Dutch real estate – do not need to be stated on your tax return. But when the 30% ruling comes to an end you will also have to declare your foreign assets in your Dutch tax return. There is a double taxation deduction you can request in case you own foreign property. The only compensation is a transitional arrangement for the cost of international schools. Employers will be allowed to pay their employees' international school fees for the year 2018/2019 untaxed. After that, school fees will be treated as a perk and the employee will have to pay tax on them. 2 Income tax Plan: Income tax reduction and shift to two tax brackets The current income tax system has four brackets: income up to €20,142, income up to €34.404, income up to € 68.507 and income above that. In 2019 these four tax bracket rates (effectively three) will be reduced to: 36.65% for the lowest rate, 38.10% for the two middle bands and 51.75% for the top bracket. From 2021 the tax system will have only two tax brackets, with the top rate starting from around €68,000. When will the change take effect: This change will start taking effect from 2019 and be finalised in 2021. What does it mean to you: The idea of the new tax rates and system is to boost income for people in works and encourage more people to get a job. For most the change will lead to a higher net income. Note: The government is also modernising the current tax-free allowance system which will also have an impact on your take-home pay. 3 Mortgage interest Plan: to cut mortgage interest tax deduction The mortgage interest deduction will decrease with 3% per year until the tax rate in the first bracket of 37.05% is reached. The maximum rate at which deduction takes place is now 49.50%. In addition, if you have no mortgage or a low mortgage you will have to start paying tax based on the property of your house. This is being phased in over 30 years. When will the change take effect: Both measures will start from 2019. What does it mean to you: You will be able to deduct mortgage interest at a lower rate (which means you will get a lower tax refund) and, once you have repaid the mortgage, you will have to pay tax on the value of your house. 4 Limits on tax deductible items Plan: Besides the mortgage interest, other tax deductions such as gifts to charities, entrepreneurs tax breaks and study costs will ultimately no longer be deductible at the top tax rate. When will the change take effect: This change will take effect over the coming years, starting in 2019. The deductions will decrease with approx. 3% per year until the tax rate in the first bracket of 37.05% is reached. The maximum rate at which deduction takes place is now 51.95%. What does it mean to you: If you use these deductions, these will now result in a lower tax rebate. The maximum deduction will be reduced from 51.95% to 37.05%. 5 Tax on dividends  Plan: The dividend tax will be abolished When will the change take effect: As of 2020 What does it mean to you: This change is positive for multinationals, and other companies with mainly foreign shareholders. It is regarded as controversial as it is an expensive change and only benefits very large companies and foreign shareholders. 6 Value-added tax Plan: The low btw rate will increase from 6% to 9% When will the change take effect: January 1, 2019 What does it mean to you: The low tax rate applies mainly to basic necessities such as food, water, books, flowers and hairdressers but also museums and amusement parks. Economists estimate the average household will spend € 300 extra per household per year on groceries. Entrepreneurs will be affected if they cannot fully pass on the higher btw to their customers. 7 Energy tax Plan: Changes to the various taxes on energy The government is increasing the energy tax on natural gas (by €0.03 per m2) and reducing the energy tax on electricity (by € 0.72 per kWh). The general household energy tax reduction will be cut by €51 a year. When will the changes take effect: 2019 What does it mean to you: The average household will pay some €130 per year extra on their energy bills. 8 Tax on air travel Plan: Introduction of a flight tax The government would like to introduce a tax on air travel and it is most likely to be a charge per departing passenger aged two years and older. The rate will depend on the zones in which the air travel will take place. When will the change take effect: The government wants to introduce this in 2021 What does it mean to you: the details are still being worked out. 9 business taxes Plan: Change in the corporate tax rates BV and NV companies have to pay corporate tax on their profits. These rates are currently 20% and 25% and will be cut to16% and 22.25%. In addition, the box 2 rate which is applied when you take money out of your business will be increased from 25% to 26.9%. When will the change take effect: These changes will take place over a period of three years, starting from 2019. What does it mean to you: This change should make the Netherlands more attractive for (foreign) corporate companies to set up in business here and that means more jobs. If you would like to find out more about the impact of the government's tax reforms, please feel free to contact Suurmond Tax Consultants www.suurmond-taxconsultants.com . Our experts have been helping expats from all over the world make use of existing tax regulations in the Netherlands to reduce their tax liability for more than 30 years. We offer a free tax scan, to check whether you are making the most of the opportunities on offer. Feel free to email taxadvice@jcsuurmond.nl  More >


You may have a Dutch passport, but when are you really Dutch?

You may have a Dutch passport, but when are you really Dutch?

At least one of your passports may prove that you are Dutch. But who actually gets to be seen and accepted as a Dutch person by society at large? Traci White has been finding out. The 'average Dutch person' seems to be the only voter that Dutch political parties have cared about during elections this year and in 2017, even though no one knows who this imaginary man or woman is. One party’s 'gewone Nederlander' is another party’s 'boze burger'. During a 2017 lecture, Sybrand Buma of CDA said that the so-called 'boze burger' (fed up citizen) is just a normal Dutch person who feels he or she has hit a wall. 'His job has been given to an immigrant or an Eastern European person, his child’s education has become too theoretical and the coarsening of society is projected into his home on television.'Buma said. In a 2018 municipal elections campaign video, Geert Wilders, the leader of the Islamophobic PVV, avowed that Islam is antithetical to Dutch identity, implying that a person cannot be Muslim and Dutch. Videos The VVD made a series of question and answer videos in 2017, one of which featured prime minister Mark Rutte explaining his idea of who the average Dutch person is. 'They’re you and me,' he says, gazing cheerfully into the camera. To Rutte, being Dutch simply means working hard. 'Anyone who wants to make a positive contribution to this country in some way is a normal, average Dutch person.' Even left wing darling Jesse Klaver of GroenLinks invoked the 'average voter', describing him or her as someone who 'does not complain and doesn’t have a big mouth, but they keep this country going'. After all these invocations, Dutch newspaper NRC tried to nail down who this elusive average Dutch person is. Statistically speaking, he or she is a 42-year-old who lives in Hardenberg, earns €42,000 a year, has a cat, likes beer, goes to Germany on vacation, is not religious, works full time and is unmarried. And loves cycling, obviously. Who is  Dutch? So that’s the average, but who is Dutch in the first place? Better yet, who gets to be seen as Dutch? As of 2015, there were 1.3 million dual citizens in the Netherlands, nearly 8 percent of the entire Dutch population (the CBS statistics tracked the number of Turkish and Moroccan people who became dual citizens separately, and all other national origins were combined). Legal changes made it more difficult to qualify for Dutch citizenship starting in 2003: with a few exceptions, in addition to taking a citizenship test, immigrants have to live in the Netherlands uninterrupted for five years. The number of naturalised citizens was already in decline, but it dropped dramatically in 2004, and the numbers remain far lower than their peak period in the ‘90s. It takes three generations to be seen as Dutch, legally speaking. In 2017, there were four million people with a migrant background, which is 23.5% of the total Dutch population of 17 million. That breaks down into 2.2 million first generation immigrants (born abroad) and 1.8 million second generation immigrants (born in The Netherlands). Dutch identity The most famous first generation immigrant is Queen Maxima: the Argentinian-born royal became Dutch in 2001. In the early years after joining the House of Orange, her ability to speak the language charmed the Dutch public. But when she used those language skills to express an opinion in 2007, Dutch folks were less impressed. 'The Netherlands is too multifaceted to summarise in a single cliché' The then-princess alienated some in the Netherlands when she said, 'The Netherlands is too multifaceted to summarise in a single cliché'. It was an assertion that seems perfectly logical coming from the lips of a dual citizen: she also stated that there is no such thing as 'the' typical Argentinian. But eleven years on, it remains one of the most memorable and controversial statements the now-queen has ever made. Maxima acknowledged that of course there are traditions that define Dutch culture, but her point was that the Netherlands contains multitudes, and has for centuries. In her remarks, the queen went on to cite hospitality and warmth as typically Dutch traits, but the two characteristics that the Dutch are arguably best known for are tolerance and candour. Both bely a deeply fair and brutally honest character, which the Dutch pride themselves on. But as many minority Dutch citizens and immigrants have discovered, tolerance can feel more like you are being put up with than being truly accepted. The candid, sardonic sense of humour that so many Dutch people seem to possess can feel downright cruel when you are on the receiving end, precisely because it is brushed off as simply joking. In a 2015 book by Groningen residents Thomas Sykes and Iris Engelsman, 'Awareness: Discrimination in Groningen', Sanne Smid of the Discrimination Hotline Groningen wrote that people should consider the impact of a politically incorrect joke. 'Not that you can’t crack jokes anymore – humour is far too important for that – but how often do you stop and think about what your words and behaviour can do to someone else? Are you prepared to accept that your remarks may come across differently than intended?' 'Are you prepared to accept that your remarks may come across differently than intended?' Thomas Sykes, an African-American man, was prompted to write the book after he was racially profiled in Groningen. He was walking down the Gedempte Zuiderdiep, the same street where the barbershop he owns is located, fancy bike in hand, when two police officers started questioning him about where he got it. 'We don’t see a guy like you with a bike like this,' they told him. The incident moved Sykes to join forces with Iris Engelsman and write about similar experiences that people from other minority groups in the city have had. Bike Rodaan Al Galidi, an Iraqi-Dutch novelist, won the EU prize for literature for his 2009 book, 'The Autist and the Carrier Pigeon'. In early June, he was pulled over by police in Zwolle because the cops suspected he had stolen his own bike. 'Is this your bike? Why does it have a different lock? Where did you buy it? How much did you pay for it? How long have you had it? Why do the wheels have different numbers? Where does the man that you bought it from live? How do you know him? Does he sell bikes to other people? Can I see your I.D.? 'Do you spell it “A L” or “A I”? What is your telephone number? What is your address? You will be hearing from me.’ All of that, just because I went for a bike ride on a summer day after spending eight hours writing my latest novel…,' he wrote on Facebook. Othering In the Netherlands, Moroccan and Antillean-descended Dutch people are statistically likelier to be othered: they are suspected of committing crimes four times more frequently than so-called western migrants. Racial profiling is rooted in othering. Although it is not yet a recognised word in most dictionaries, Merriam Webster describes 'othering' as treating a person or culture as fundamentally different from another class of individuals, often by emphasising its apartness in traits that differ from one’s own. Othering seems antithetical to the tolerance that the Netherlands is known for and takes such pride in. Immigrants, and their descendants, whether they originally came here as refugees, knowledge migrants or something in between, may expect to be welcomed with open arms by the famously tolerant Dutch. But at times, it seems like the Dutch think that letting someone into the country at all is a grand enough gesture. 'Tolerating means you are claiming ownership over your own humanity and space' Dario Fazzi, a researcher at the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies in Middelburg, says that tolerance is not the right thing to be striving toward in the first place. Fazzi is Italian and has been working in the Netherlands for the past six years. He cites an essay written by the former American first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1940s called 'Tolerance is an ugly word'. 'I think she was right,' Fazzi says. 'Tolerating means you are claiming ownership over your own humanity and space, saying something is exclusively mine, be it space or nature. So you are not fully recognising somebody else as your peer.' Dutch tolerance Fazzi says that tolerance does not necessarily come from the kindness of one’s heart: there has been a mutually beneficial element to historic Dutch tolerance. The Dutch have traditionally let in people whom they felt had something to add, be it invited guest labourers from Morocco and Turkey in the 20th century or Sephardic Jewish people from Portugal who fled the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century and were seen as an economic asset in the Netherlands. Setting aside whether it should be a bare minimum or a goal, the question remains: is tolerance actually a defining trait of the Netherlands nowadays? Linda de Jong, an associate lecturer and process coordinator at NHL-Stenden University in Leeuwarden who is half Irish and half Dutch, says that she is not so sure. 'I don’t think we’re that tolerant at all,' she says. 'To me, tolerance means respecting one another, and being able to see another person for who they are. Our society has changed because so many foreigners have come over, but they’re Dutch as well.'   Melissa Weiner, an associate professor of sociology at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, argues that an Irish-Dutch woman, an Italian man or even an American woman like herself who speaks admittedly flawed Dutch are likelier to be accepted as part of Dutch society than a person of colour from one of the former Dutch colonies. Weiner says that having family that has lived in the Netherlands for generations and a Dutch passport are still no guarantee of actually being considered Dutch. Weiner and Antonio Carmona Báez are the co-editors of 'Smash the Pillars: Decoloniality and the Imaginary of Color in the Dutch Kingdom. The book, which was published on 15 June, revisits the former Dutch pillar system, which divided Dutch society – from television channels to labour unions – along religious lines well into the 20th century. 'The way the pillar system was set up always excluded people, even though it worked theoretically for some folks historically,' Weiner says. 'The pillars are a larger analogy for the whole country, where people have been excluded under a model that is perceived as being democratic when it’s really anything but.' 'The way the pillar system was set up always excluded people' Halleh Ghorashi, an anthropologist at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, is also a contributor to 'Smash the Pillars'. Ghorashi was born and raised in Iran, but she has lived and worked in the Netherlands for decades. Although much governmental policy emphasises learning Dutch and finding work as the best means for immigrants to integrate, Ghorashi’s research has found that it is not that simple. 

In fact, language inclusion can actually work against integration. Generalisations Being able to understand Dutch means knowing exactly what kind of sweeping generalisations are being made about foreigners, be it in overheard conversations on the train, in the media or during political campaigns. While Dutch fluency inarguably improves your employability, Ghorashi has carried out multiple studies which found that working in a job surrounded by Dutch colleagues can ultimately leave people feeling more left out. Being exposed to Dutch co-workers casually throwing around stereotypes about foreigners, joking or not, can make someone with a migrant background feel more isolated than accepted. Ghorashi says that exclusion is by no means limited to first generation immigrants. In a recent article in De Groene Amsterdammer, she pointed out that Dutch people with foreign – especially Muslim – sounding names were less likely to get invited for job interviews, less likely to get an apartment and more likely to be advised to seek a lower level of education than they are actually capable of. Teachers often recommend that students from a migrant background pursue a lower level of secondary school because their parents, many of whom were guest labourers from the post-war period, are not highly educated. Being underestimated instils a lower sense of self-worth in those students, who in turn end up being proportionally under-represented at universities. Slavery Another contributing factor is the inconsistency in how students are taught about Dutch history. The Dutch Golden Age overlapped with much of the Netherlands’ imperial colonising and enslavement, but Weiner says that only two Dutch text books make that connection explicitly. Indonesia, Suriname, Curacao, New York City and even Brazil were once part of the Dutch empire, which only technically ended in the 20th century when Indonesia fought for its independence against brutal Dutch resistance. The riches obtained during that era are the origins of modern Dutch wealth. For Urwin Vyent, the interim director of the Dutch National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacy, the only way to achieve a more accepting and equal future is by being honest about the inequality of the past. NiNsee organises an annual Remembrance Day in Amsterdam for Keti Koti, the day that slavery officially ended in Suriname, on 1 July. Keti Koti means 'the chain is broken' in Sranan Tongo, which is spoken in Suriname. NiNsee wants the Dutch government to grant this holiday the same status as other remembrance ceremonies, like those in recognition of the Second World War. 'We have seen that there is growing awareness of the past' While NiNsee is focused on the Dutch history of slavery, Dutch society will also have to be honest with itself about the legacy of colonialism in order for everyone who lives in the Netherlands to ever be seen as Dutch. Slowly but surely, Vyent says that he sees things moving in the right direction toward true acceptance. 'We see that people are becoming more aware that the legacy of Dutch slavery is something that absolutely needs to be faced,' Vyent says. 'We have seen that there is growing awareness of the past.' Traci White is a journalist with The Northern Times. This article was first published on The Northern Times website.  More >


It’s back, the ‘I am not a tourist’ Amsterdam expat fair for internationals

It’s back, the ‘I am not a tourist’ Amsterdam expat fair for internationals

Find out everything you want to know about the Dutch expat life, under one roof: on Sunday 7 October 2018, the 16th edition of Amsterdam’s renowned I am not a tourist Expat Fair will shake up the Beurs van Berlage in the heart of Amsterdam. Explore what the Netherlands has to offer, including this year’s highlight sections: 'Jobs for Expats' and 'Houses for Expats'. Every year we give you the chance to take part in engaging and useful workshops, mingle with thousands of fellow internationals and network with companies from across the country in what has become the largest expat-focused event in the Netherlands. And, what’s more, it’s free! Living, working and studying in the Netherlands We have over 125 exhibitors and 40 professional presentations arranged around the themes of relocation, finance, employment, families, healthcare, education, transport, housing and setting up home. Next to that we have an entertaining programme. So whether you have just moved to Holland, are a long-term resident, or a digital nomad the I am not a tourist Expat Fair promises everything you need to know about living, working and enjoying your time here. This year’s fair will be the biggest yet; offering more than 3,000 expats the chance to talk with professionals from diverse industries and explore a wide variety of social clubs, volunteering and entrepreneurial opportunities. For families with children, the Expat Fair has a dedicated kids’ area managed by childcare professionals of Hestia Kinderopvang. Special housing and jobs themes This year the Employment and Housing themes at the fair will be extra highlighted, recognisable with the 'Jobs for Expats' and ‘Houses for Expats’ signage. Jobs for Expats : employers, experts, job coaches and recruiters will be on hand to help internationals wishing to build a professional network, continue their education, pursue their career or succeed as an entrepreneur. Bring your CV! Note: only exhibitors with the Jobs for Expats signage offer multilingual vacancies. Houses for Expats: There are many homes in the Netherlands available for expats looking to buy or rent, that is why we introduce this year at the Expat Fair ‘Houses for Expats’. Getting an understanding of tenants’ rights and property law is a must. At the fair you will find among others real estate agents, short stay residences, mortgage advisers, and notaries to help you find answers to your questions regarding housing in the Netherlands. Time to get in touch with all things Dutch Whatever your question, from ‘How do I set up a bank account and do my taxes?’ to ‘What is the best childcare, school or university for my child?’ the I am not a tourist Expat Fair can point you in the right direction. Both settled expats and new arrivals can find out about study, clubs and cultural activities. Whether you have lived in the Netherlands for days, months, years, or are yet to move - you are not a tourist! So make sure you keep Sunday 7th October 2018 free! Places are limited so book your FREE ticket online now to avoid missing out!  More >


DutchNews.nl destinations: enjoy art and cream pastries in Den Bosch

DutchNews.nl destinations: enjoy art and cream pastries in Den Bosch

Whether you call it Den Bosch or s-Hertogenbosch, the capital of North Brabant is a great place to spend a weekend. Its museums and quirky cafes are truly one of a kind. Here’s Brandon Hartley’s rundown on just a few of the city’s attractions. s-Hertogenbosch means ‘The Duke’s Forest’ in English but learning how to properly pronounce it if that’s your native language could take hours or longer. This is why many people opt to use ‘Den Bosch’, the city’s colloquial and much less tongue-twisty nickname. Once upon a time, Duke Henry I of Brabant and his family owned a large estate in the area. When he was still in his 20s, he decided that a nearby marsh with a few dunes would be a positively fantastic place to start building a city. He established Den Bosch in the late 12th century but it was allegedly all part of a scheme to protect his family’s land holdings from encroachment. The duke envisioned the city as an impenetrable fortress but his efforts all came to naught when soldiers from the nearby regions of Gelre and Holland stormed in and raided the place in 1203. Much of the fledgling city was destroyed. Amazingly enough, Den Bosch bounced back and later became the home of Hieronymus Bosch, the legendary artist. His vivid and often nightmarish depictions of the Christian afterlife may or may not have been inspired by a devastating fire that tore through the city in 1463. In the centuries that followed, Den Bosch endured wars and sieges from the French, the Spanish, and the Prussians, earning itself the nickname ‘Marsh Dragon’ along the way due to the marshes that surrounded the city’s ramparts. Nowadays, Den Bosch is known for its music and theatrical festivals in addition to being one of the wildest places in the Netherlands to head for Carnival. The annual event attracts thousands of attendees as the city is briefly renamed ‘Oeteldonk’ for three straight days of drinking, singing, and merriment galore. Things to do Journey to hell and back Den Bosch is home to several museums but this one is definitely the strangest. Housed inside an old church, the Jheronimus Bosch Art Centre is devoted to the life and works of Hieronymus Bosch. It contains life-sized reproductions of many works from his oeuvre along with sculptures of a few of the weirdest inhabitants from his often downright hellish paintings. Along with a recreation of his workshop in the basement, visitors can ride a glass elevator to the top of the church for stunning views of the city. There’s also an astronomical clock that features some grim depictions of Judgement Day. Check out the Van Goghs If Bosch’s paintings are just too dang creepy for your tastes, there’s also the Noordbrabants Museum. It’s devoted to the art, culture, and history of Noord-Brabant. Vincent van Gogh was born in the province and the museum currently houses several of the artist’s paintings. It’s also home to artifacts from the region’s Roman period along with art collections that date from the 16th century all the way to the modern era. Wander the streets Den Bosch wasn’t heavily damaged during World War 2, which means much of its architecture dates back centuries. One of the best ways to explore the city is by following this pedestrian route through its historic centre. The route features seven statues, arguably the most famous of which honours Dieske, a young boy who reportedly loved urinating in Den Bosch’s canals back in the 15th century. One night while answering nature’s call, he noticed enemy troops on the move. He quickly notified the city’s guards and became a hero in the process. Heaven’s hotline If you’re in the mood for more statues, you’ll find over 96 of them on the exterior of the Sint-Janskathedraal, the city’s famous gothic cathedral. During an extensive restoration project that was completed in the early ‘10s, over two dozen new angels were added, one of which has a modern twist. She can be spotted dressed in blue jeans and holding a cell phone that, as the story goes, allows her to make calls to heaven. At one point, there was a phone number that allowed visitors to contact the angel and leave messages for her. On a far more somber note, the elaborate interior of the cathedral also features an intense stained glass window that depicts the apocalypse and includes a panel showing the September 11th attack on New York City. Explore the sands of the ‘Sahara’ If the weather’s behaving and you’re looking for an outdoorsy adventure, consider a trek out to Loonse en Drunense Duinen. This national park, which is nicknamed the ‘Brabant Sahara’, was established in 2002 and is located about 19 km outside of the city. The ever-changing landscape is perpetually being shaped by the wind and it’s an interesting place to roam while on foot, bike, or horseback. Where to eat Den Bosch’s Bossche bollen have become world famous and, if you enjoy pastries, digging into one is considered something of a prerequisite if it’s your first trip to the city. Roughly the size of a tennis ball, the chocolate-covered puffballs are stuffed full of whipped cream and go great with a cup of coffee. You can find them pretty much all over the place but Banketbakkerij Jan de Groot often winds up on various 'best of' lists. Salon De Roosekrans, which dates back to 1794, is a great cafe that also serves Bossche bollen along with various lunch items and a selection of cookies and chocolates. Drab is a cool cafe to stop for a flat white or a more traditional cup of joe and they use beans from the acclaimed Blommers micro-roastery in Nijmegen. It’s also a great place to people watch at the window-side table (which is held up by ropes attached to the wall). For lunch, visitors often rave about Visch, a seafood market with a few tables that offers simple and freshly-made meals. Nom Nom is an adorable cafe with a more relaxed vibe and both lunch and dinner menus. The San Juan Cantina is where to go if you enjoy Latin American cuisine. 7evenden Hemel also typically receives top marks from lovers of seafood and meat dishes. If you’ll be up and about for breakfast, Buurt is one of the best spots to head in town. It’s a vibrant neighbourhood cafe with a few unique items on the menu. Their ontbijt pizza (breakfast pizza) comes covered in créme fraiche, bacon, fried eggs, cheese, and spring onions. They also serve American-style pancakes and worstenbroodje (sausage bread), a local favourite. If you can’t make it over there in time for breakfast, Buurt has lunch and dinner menus as well. Where to stay For a truly heavenly experience, book a night or two at De Soete Moeder. It offers comfortable rooms that recall its holier days as a monastery. Each room has retained its original details right down to the home stoups. Their restaurant also serves unique regional dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients that can be hard to find outside of Noord-Brabant. The always dependable Golden Tulip chain has a hotel in Den Bosch but, for a more unique experience, you could also try CubaCasa. This bed and breakfast has furnishings and decor that recreate the vibe and zest of the Caribbean island in the 1950s. There’s also an on-site sauna. How to get there Getting to Den Bosch is fairly easy. By car from Amsterdam, it’s around a 75 minute drive down the A2. Getting to Den Bosch by train from the country’s larger cities also isn’t too terribly daunting. Anything else? Carnival is a very big deal in Den Bosch. The annual festival is filled with local traditions and renaming the city for three days is just one of them. If you like to party, you can do worse than celebrate here. But if not, avoid the the weekend before the start of Lent.  More >


From heather fields to eagles – seven Dutch national parks to visit

From heather fields to eagles – seven Dutch national parks to visit

The first national parks in the Netherlands were established in the 1930s and they now cover over 130,000 hectares nationwide. Esther O'Toole takes you on a tour through seven of the Netherlands' natural treasure troves. If you have been led to believe that the natural landscapes of the Netherlands are flat, grey, largely rainy and agricultural then you have been mistaken. There are hills, dunes, forests and a beautiful coastline to explore; where you may encounter, wildlife as diverse as wild boar, beavers, seals, birds of prey and even… flamingos Most National Parks in Holland are now looked after by the Dutch forestry commission (Staatsbosbeheer) and their regional partners. As well as preserving the integrity of each area's unique character and maintaining a healthy environment for indigenous species, they also operate a great outreach programme, such as guided night-time walks with the forester. You can even stay on or very close to many of the 20 parks across the country. Choose from 22 small-scale nature campsites (with just the basic facilities like toilets, showers, bins and a fire hut) and associated B&Bs or small holiday homes. Best of all are the 'pole sites' - designated areas within which 'wild' camping is still allowed for adventurous and environmentally minded folks. Find them by GPS. 1 Utrechtse Heuvelrug (Utrecht) A high point in the middle of the country, this naturally undulating landscape gets its name from the glacial ridge at its centre. The hills range from the Gooimeer near Huizen down to the Grebbeberg by Rhenen. Founded in 2003 and extended in 2013, the park now covers 10,000 hectares of dunes, heath, forests, grasslands and floodplains. Loved by hikers and bikers for obvious reasons; but you can also join the forester to look for rare butterflies, learn about the edible plants of the area, or take an evening walk to spot one of the 100 bird species resident here - the rare, night-swallow. 2 Alde Feanen (Friesland) One of the youngest National Parks, Alde Feanen in Friesland is also a Natura 2000 European Special Area of Conservation. Formed in 2006 it covers 25 square kilometres of morass, meadow, peat bog, forest and waters including the Princenhof lake area. The park is popular with white storks who are making a resurgence, in part thanks to the work of the stork breeding station at It Ebertsheim. You can visit there or head to the park´s information centre in Earnewâld to hire boats to explore, take a drive on a tractor, or play in a haystack and find details of walks (with hired kit like magnifying glasses, tree measure, and pond nets for the kids). They also have a small agricultural museum here. 3 Veluwezoom (Gelderland) The oldest National Park in the country, Veluwezoom was set up in 1930. It sits on the southern edge of the Veluwe and takes up 50 square kilometres of (by Dutch standards) high country: the highest point in the park, is a full 110 metres above sea level! You can see highland cattle, badgers, and red deer here; and if you're lucky a wild boar, or rare pine-marten. Veluwezoom is one of a number of parks managed by the Dutch natural heritage conservation group Natuurmonumenten who, under the name Oerrr, provide fun, educational materials and events around the country. All of which are aimed at getting children familiar with, and out into, the wonders of nature for just €1.25 a month. 4 Drents-Friese Wold (Drenthe/Friesland) A mix of woods, sands and morass greet you in this 61 square kilometre park which crosses the border between the provinces of Drenthe and Friesland, home to unusual plants like bog-rosemary and diverse fauna including newts, lizards and snakes. You can also spot megalithic tombs, or hunebedden. 5 Maasduinen (Limburg) Some 4,200 hectares of heath and forest run along the German border here. You can keep walking for miles and straight from one country into the other, surrounded on all sides by banks of glorious, purple bell-heather. Alternatively, pick up the PieterPad, the longest continual walking route in the Netherlands which passes through here, between Pieterburen, in the province of Groningen, down to Sint Pietersberg near Maastricht. Watch out for the highland cattle, large goats and sheep employed to manage the moors! De Biesbosch (Zuid-Holland) Near Dordrecht lies this haven for water lovers - you can boat or canoe through its network of rivers and creeks, and moor up at the little islands dotted about. Locals say beware of getting stuck on the sandbanks though, or you may be there overnight! You would, however, be surrounded by the stillness of the willow forests and be able to watch kingfishers, sea eagles and possibly beaver in one of the last areas of freshwater tidal wetlands in north western Europe De Weerribben-Wieden (Overijssel) Another one best enjoyed by water, perhaps a canoe or a 'fluisterboot' (literally whisper boat) you can lose yourself in the maze of reed-bordered waterways while looking for the local residents: otters. Don't worry about getting lost though as you will soon find your way back to the Kalenbergergracht, the main artery running through the park. There are gorgeous little villages nearby, such as Giethoorn - which has become very popular indeed with coachloads of tourists. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, try Blokzijl or Vollenhove with their pretty town centres.  More >


Blogwatching: Cycling through Limburg history (and a message to the countess)

Blogwatching: Cycling through Limburg history (and a message to the countess)

Welcome to Waking Up on the Roof, where Kim Stokes share stories, thoughts and photos from her bicontinental life, her travels throughout Europe and Canada, and her road-trips in Electric-Blue, her trusty VW van. About two years ago I invested in a bike with battery power. Very un-Dutch, I know, but we live in a very un-Dutch part of the Netherlands. A hilly part. And since I bought that bike (and Arthur followed suit), we’ve been spending an increasing amount of time discovering our surroundings on two wheels. The Dutch make sightseeing by bike super easy. All over the Netherlands, maps and markers called Fietsknooppunten, (translated, bicycle junctions), route cyclists through the most scenic landscapes that an area can offer, but beware! It’s easy to be lured far afield by the beauty. Just yesterday afternoon Arthur looked up from his scores and called in my direction. Hey! Is it time for a glass of chilled chardonnay at Kasteel Schaloen? Twist my arm. Castle Schaloen is about 10 kilometres away as the bird flies, perfect for a short break by battery-bike. We peddled through pretty villages and forested laneways to arrive in the lush Geul Valley where several castles and manor-farms still stand after hundreds of years. We followed the meandering river, to a courtyard terrace where we sat sipping in the shadow of the fairy-tale fortress.  Motivated by the sunshine (and the wine), we chose a different path back home, and arrived at sunset, some 40 kilometres and five hours after opting for our 'short break'. Landscape Our European home is in Zuid-Limburg, that little tail of the Netherlands that sticks down between Belgium and Germany. The landscape here is so different from the rest of the country that even the Dutch come down here in full holiday mode to walk, cycle, and sit on sunny terraces. South Limburg has an international feel, and there’s good reason; the borders here, formed just 180 years ago, are a new development compared to the castles, farmhouses and half-timbered villages flanking fields and filling valleys. Cycling through the rolling hills, it’s easy to flow across borders, and hardly know you’ve left one country for another. When we moved into this neighbourhood over a decade ago, Arthur’s son loved to play this game with our Canadian company; Will you go for a little bike ride with me? He’d ask innocently enough. Who wouldn’t say yes to a 12-year-old Dutch boy using his best English? Off they’d peddle through our village, past the Janssenmolen, a windmill built in 1870, around stately Kasteel Doenrade, the oldest castle sight in Limburg dating from 1117, and down a country-lane to the village of Hillensberg, where a few minutes after leaving home he would stop, turn to them and announce with delight. Haha! We are in Germany!! I’m a history buff. It’s not that I know so much about history, but rather, that I am astounded by it. The concept that the castle in my village (yes, I do have a castle in my village) has foundations from 1310, a tower from 1609, and has been owned by the same family since 1779 has me peddling past the front gate several times a week. At the edge of the driveway, I get off my bike and gawk at the setting, doing my best to imagine the golden-age of grand houses. I ponder who has peered out those stately windows over the hundreds of years past. I never tire of the idea that this chateau has stood as the centre pillar to village life for generations. Okay, I’ll even admit to something of an obsession with my local castle. I’m reasonably sure I could recite to you the lineage of the counts and countesses who have called Kasteel Amstenrade home for 700 years. The 11-hectare English gardens are open daily for the public to enjoy, but the castle is privately owned, and I’ve never been inside. Bygone era More than 100 castles from a bygone era remain in Limburg. Some are open to the public as boutique hotels, restaurants, or museums, but most are still privately owned. So, it will come as no surprise, that my favourite day of the year is Open Monumentendag. In order to keep the interest of the people whose tax dollars go to the upkeep of thousands of Dutch historical monuments, once a year a select few castles, and manor-farmhouses throw open their doors for the public. When I’m in residence in Limburg during Open Monument Day, I’ll be peddling along in search of open doors where I can take my gawking inside, and for a few short minutes, be the face looking out. (Dear Countess de Marchant et d'Ansembourg of Kasteel Amstenrade, I live just up the road and I would be available for tea at your convenience.) This blog was first published on Waking Up on the Roof.  Every month we feature a blog post from one of our favourite bloggers. Interested? See if your blog meets the criteria to be included on the site.  More >