Category Archives: Uncategorized

Eight typical Dutch things – according to the ABC bookstore

Our good friends at the ABC bookstore in Amsterdam and The Hague have come up with a very jolly postcard series featuring typical Dutch things… We particularly like tOOlpa.

typical Dutch things

But we did have to point out to them that, alas, the cheese slicer was actually invented by a Norwegian.


10 very old Dutch things

Being built on a swamp, where wood was the building material of the day, not much remains of the prehistoric Netherlands. Even the Romans avoided much of the country because of the risk of wet feet. But here is a list of 10 old Dutch things

1  Oldest signs of life

The oldest signs of human life in the swampy lowlands were left by a humanoid called Homo heidelbergensis who decided the perfect place to roam was what is now the middle bit of the Netherlands. There they left flints and tools that may be 300,000 years old but could possibly be double that number. The tools, sharpened stones, were probably used to scrape hides.

2 Oldest burial

Trijntje oldest grave

The oldest burial place found so far is in Hardinxveld-Giessendam, where the complete skeleton of a woman was discovered. Trijntje, so dubbed because she was found during building work on the Betuwe train (trein) line, is thought to be between 7,000 and 7,500 years old. She was 158 cm tall, and between 40 and 60 at the time of her death. How she died could not be ascertained.

3 Oldest road

The oldest roads which can be identified were part of the Roman Limes, the border defences which marked the edges of the Roman empire which roughly ran from Katwijk and then followed the Rhine. The roads were not thought to have been paved, but packed with gravel and clay.

4 Oldest town


The oldest town in the Netherlands as afar as official town privileges are concerned is Stavoren (1058) in Friesland but Nijmegen is probably the oldest town of some importance today. In 1980 a roman victory column dating from 17 AD was stumbled upon, celebrating the emperor Tiberius’ successful campaigns in the Lower Rhine. Nijmegen was known as Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum  in Roman times.

5 Oldest house

oldest house

The oldest Dutch house still standing is in Deventer. It has a bit of wall dating from 900. The rest of the house was built in 1130, including its city gate (which is the oldest city gate in the Netherlands.)

6 Oldest Dutch

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic anda thu, wat unbidan nu? It means, or was thought to mean ‘All the birds are making their nest except you and I, What are we waiting for?’ and it has long been considered the oldest example of the Dutch language. The text was found on a manuscript copied in Winchester Abbey and is thought to be a little doodle to try out a new pen by a monk in his native West Flemish.


In 2012 Belgian professor Luc de Grauwe made a very convincing case for the sentence to be in Old English. According to the professor this translates into the much less romantic and frankly incomprehensible: ‘All the birds have now built their nests except you and I, now what do you expect?’ The official oldest Dutch bit is Maltho thi afrio lito, or ‘I tell you I release you’ which dates from 510 and was the standard phrase to free a serf.

7 Oldest reclaimed land

Reclaiming land has been a Dutch pursuit since the 14th century but the first polder of any significance is the Beemster (1607 – 1612). It even made the World Heritage list. Brilliant engineer Jan Adriaanszoon Leeghwater (literally empty (of) water) used 47 windmills to drain an area of almost 73 m2 km. The Beemster was turned into extremely fertile agricultural land and generated much wealth for the canny investors of the time.

8 Oldest church

Oldest church Oosterbeek

The oldest church in the Netherlands still functioning as a church is the Oude Kerk in Oosterbeek (Gelderland) which is pre-Romanesque and dates from the 10th century. In 1944 the church was the backdrop to heavy fighting between the Germans and the Allies during Operation Market Garden. It remains a place of pilgrimage for many veterans today.

9 Oldest university

Leiden University is the oldest university in the Netherlands. It was founded on February 7, 1575. Apparently William of Orange offered the city a choice: an exemption of tax for ten years or a university. It would have been interesting to know how close the vote actually was. Apart from such 19th century Dutch luminaries as statesman Johan Thorbecke, father of the Dutch constitution, an impressive 13 Nobel prize winners worked at the university. Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Niels Bohr also visited.

10 Oldest company


The oldest Dutch company still in business is Hotel De Draak in Bergen op Zoom. It was listed as an inn as early as 1406 and is a hotel still. It has had its share of mishaps, most recently a devastating fire in 2013, but it has since reopened. One of the most remarkable people to (dis)grace the guest list must be the Spanish Duke of Alba who stayed the night in 1567, a year before the start of the 80 Years War’, or the Dutch revolt against Spain.

12 iconic Dutch houses

Forget Amsterdam canal mansions, the thatched villas of Laren and the boring high-rises springing up all over the country. Here’s a list of 12 iconic 20th century Dutch homes, based on the views of the experts at website

1 The Cube House (Piet Blom 1984, Rotterdam)

Cubic houses in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Blom’s cube house perched seemingly precariously on one of its point on a pole is really a very sophisticated tree house. His idea was to build to build ‘a forest of trees’ and turn it into a small, largely self-contained community amid the urban sprawl. There’s a cube house for you to visit to find out if it gives you that tree house feeling.

2 T Het Schip (Michel de Klerk, 1921)

Het Schip is Amsterdamse School at its jolliest and most heart-lifting. Beautifully decorated, with all sorts of unexpected flourishes and unfunctional curlicues which present-day social housing is sadly lacking. Now home to a museum.

3 De Papaverhof (Jan Wils, 1921, The Hague)

Another stylish social housing project (although this one was meant for the middle classes ‘who might soon not be able to afford a maid.’). This one is inspired by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright who influenced the Dutch Stijl movement. Jan Wils successfully incorporated the key elements airiness, light and unity in this project.

4 The Jan de Jong house (Jan de Jong, 1962-67, Schaijk)

Jan de Jong huis
Jan de Jong is a representative of the so-called ‘Bossche School’: a starkly classical style with a strict emphasis on proportion much used in the Dutch church architecture of the time. ‘DISPONERE MOLEM CONDECET SAPIENTEM ET ORDINARE STRUCTOREM SPATIA CORPORI TECTUM MENTI PARARE STRATUM’ was De Jong’s dictum which is cut into one of the stone lintels of the house. It means roughly that a home needs to be a roof over your head but also a place conducive to contemplation. (accessible to the public on Nationale Monumentendag Sept 12 &13)

5 Jachthuis Sint Hubertus (H.P. Berlage, 1920, Hoge Veluwe)

Built by Dutch master architect Berlage, the country residence of the wealthy Kröller-Müller family shows all the hallmarks of his style. Berlage not only designed the red brick house with its distinctive tower, he got involved in everything else as well, from gardens to cutlery. His only gripe was that the lady of the house kept interfering thus spoiling his vision. When she wanted to add a conservatory he abandoned the project in exasperation. We can see why she wanted more light in. It’s mad-looking from outside but inside the rooms are pokey and dark.

6 The Dijkstra house (Ben Merkelbach and Charles Karsten, 1934, Groet)

Dijkstra huis
The Dijkstra house is an example of a side shoot of the Stijl called het Nieuwe Bouwen (the new way of building) which, more than the parent plant, emphasised functionality. Here is the antithesis of the Amsterdamse School: geometric, white plastered façades and strictly no frilly nonsense. The house is a holiday rental (personally we think the kitchen is on the small side but then who wouldn’t want to cook in an icon?).

7 The Rietveld-Schröder house (Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schröder, 1924, Utrecht)

This was named after Nieuwe Bouwen pioneer Gerrit Rietveld and client Truus Schröder. Schröder, an interior designer, had very particular ideas about the house she wanted for her and her three children: panels to change the function and size of the rooms, shutters instead of curtains and many other ingenious (furniture) features which Schröder and Rietveld must have had a lot of fun designing.

8 The Van Zessen house (Cornelis van Eesteren and Theo van Doesburg, 1923, Alblasserdam)

huis van zessen
Artist and poet Van Doesburg, one of the founding fathers of the influential Stijl art and architectural movement and architect Van Eesteren joined artistic forces to design the Van Zessen house built in Van Eesteren’s home town of Alblasserdam. Van Doesburg is responsible for the daring colour scheme of the outside of the house.

9 Van Eesteren museum apartment (Cornelis van Eesteren, 1952, Amsterdam)

Van eesteren museum house
Nieuwe Bouwen adept Van Eesteren is the architect of Amsterdam’s Stadsuitbreidingsplan, or expansion plan, conceived in 1934 and executed after the war. There’s a Van Eesteren museum which houses exhibitions on several of the ‘garden cities’ built by Van Eesteren to alleviate the terrible lack of houses, such as Osdorp, Slotervaart and Overtoomse Veld. To visit the ‘outside’ museum you can sign up for an architectural walk past Van Eesteren buildings, or visit the iconic fifties style apartment in Slotermeer.

10 The Kiefhoek house museum (J.J.P. Oud, 1930, Rotterdam)

Kiefhoek house
Nieuwe Bouwen architect Oud was called in to provide social housing for the working classes in Rotterdam. It had to be cheap, efficient and practical. The upstairs had no bathroom or indeed a tap. The homes were later demolished and then rebuilt with better materials and all the modern amenities in place. The Kiefhoek house museum dates from 1930 and is still in its old state.

11 The Sonneveld house museum (Brinkman en van der Vlugt, 1933, Rotterdam)

Also in Rotterdam but in a slightly different price bracket is the Sonneveld house, built for the well-to do Rotterdam Sonneveld family. Sonneveld Sr was a director at the Van Nelle tobacco factory, travelled widely and an admirer of American architecture. Proponents of the clean Nieuwe Bouwen style, the architects worked with another modernist, the famous furniture designer W.H. Gispen. The house has been restored to its former glory and is now home to an extensive collection of art from the Thirties.

12 The Van Schijndel house ( Mart van Schijndel, 1992-93, Utrecht)

Architect Mart van Schijndel lives in the house he designed for himself, and very nice it is too. The treatment of light and space, and the sculptural qualities of the building have given the Van Schijndel house iconic status even though it is a youngster on our list. Visits are by appointment only.

We’ve tried to make sure all these photos are from open sources. If we’ve nicked yours, please let us know and we’ll apologise profusely.

10 things you might like to know about Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) has been voted ‘the most beautiful Dutch painting’ and described as ‘timeless, like the Mona Lisa’. She’s also a massive money-spinner and features on anything from bikes to baggage. Here’s 10 key facts.


1 It’s not a pearl
For starters, the pearl is not a pearl. A pearl of that size would simply not have been available to Vermeer. The painting didn’t acquire the name until 1995. Before then she was simply a ‘Tronie’, or a head or face, ‘Girl with Turban’, or ‘Head of a Girl’. Experts at the Mauritshuis think she may be wearing a Venetian bauble of varnished glass which was fashionable at the time while astronomer Vincent Icke opts for polished tin, which would also explain the shine.

2 Who’s that girl?
Nobody knows. She could be Vermeer’s daughter who was around twelve in 1665. Others put the date of the painting at 1655, putting Vermeer’s young wife of two years– literally – in the frame. Perhaps she was simply an anonymous model. According to Rembrandt expert Ernst van de Wetering most artists preferred actual models for their ‘Tronies’, so it is probably safe to conclude that whoever she was, she was not a figment of Vermeer’s imagination.

3  What does it mean?
If the painting was meant to showcase the artist’s mastery at depicting emotion as some art critics have it, the Girl with a Pearl Earring does not give much away. But perhaps that is the point.

girl with a pearl earring cuffllinks

4 The source of the blue

The headband of the turban is painted in Vermeer’s iconic blue. Although poor he used the very expensive natural ultramarine or crushed lapis lazuli in most of his paintings. In 2012 when the Rijksmuseum restored ‘Woman in Blue reading a Letter’  it found a layer of copper green paint underneath, which gave the blue extra depth.

5 How did the girl end up in the Mauritshuis?

In 1902 the painting, along with 12 others, was bequeathed to the Mauritshuis by army officer and art collector Arnoldus Andries Des Tombe who bought it at auction for two guilders in 1881. The Mauritshuis unfortunately managed to lose the original invoice.

6 Who painted it?
Girl with a Pearl Earring is among some 30 odd paintings attributed to Vermeer. Little is known about the artist- nicknamed the Sphinx of Delft – and many of his paintings went unsigned (although not this one: the signature is in the upper left hand corner) . Documents of the period contain descriptions which – tantalizingly – refer to paintings that are lost or perhaps remain hidden in an attic.

7 Who copied it?
The girl features on hundreds of souvenirs and in hundreds of parodies. Even Marge Simpson has posed as her. In 2014 elusive graffiti artist Banksy painted Girl with a Pierced Eardrum on a wall in Bristol. It was defaced hours after it was discovered.

girl with a pierced eardrum

8 What has it influenced?
Vermeer’s life and times spawned a multitude of novels. One of the best-known is Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring which was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson as Vermeer and his model – she’s a servant in this version.

9 Did Vermeer like women?
The women in Vermeer’s paintings outnumber the men: women are depicted 40 times while men only put in an appearance 14 times. Not that it matters.

10 Where has she been?
Although Vermeer was probably not known very far beyond his native Delft, his Girl with a Pearl Earring has travelled extensively. Up to until now she’s been to Paris, Washington, Osaka, Tokyo, Kobe, San Francisco and Atlanta.

The 10 best places to live in the Netherlands

Every year, current affairs magazine Elsevier draws up a list of the best places in the Netherlands to live. The list is based on three things. First is the ambiance – the proximity to museums, luxury shops, cafes and if the town centre is ‘historic’. Second is Groen-Blauw – how close it is to parks and nature and the sea? Third is Harmonie – what the neighbourhood is like to live in – is there crime, dog shit and noisy neighbours?

Not surprisingly, this is not a list for those who prefer to live in the city.

zwarte berg in Laaren

In the far distance, you can see a pony

1 Zwarte Berg in Laaren

2 Rijkerspaarkbuurt in Velsen

3 Oostereng in Laren

4 Bredius Oost in Bussem

5 Bredius West in Bussem

6 Overveen

7 Rembrandtpark in Naarden

8 Heemsteedse Dreef and Schildersbuurt in Heemstede

9 Van Merlenbuurt and Valkenburgerplein in Heemstede

10 Aerdenhout centre

The seven metro lines of HollandCity

We think this is truly bizarre but the bright sparks in Holland Marketing seem to think this is the way forward – sell the Netherlands as if it is one big city and call it, yes, HollandCity.

The idea is to split the country up into districts, taking in all sorts of places of interest. So we have the Royal district of The Hague, the Lake district of Friesland and good old dynamic downtown Amsterdam. And, if you (and we quote) ‘are interested in architecture and feel comfortable in a dynamic (again) multicultural environment, you can stay in Rotterdam and still visit all the famous Dutch icons’.

To negotiate your way around this fictitious city, there are seven helpful routes you can take, depending on your own specific interests.  Please note, none of this is anything to do with real public transport.

HollandCity metrokaart

We’ve spent a good while trying to make sense of this map and we do have a few questions…

Why is Drachten is considered a suitable end to the Mondriaan Design Line?

Is Schiphol airport really such a great place to go shopping?

And what, on earth, is Zijpe?