Category Archives: Uncategorized

10 inspirational Dutch women

There are many things about Dutch women which bring out reactions of awe and envy. Legs that seem to begin in their armpits like all those top models, the swinging blonde locks beloved by hockey players, that perfect mix of confidence and nonchalance… But physical characteristics come and go. Here is a list of inspirational Dutch women who’ve made it into the history books for other reasons than their appearance. In no particular order.

Elisabeth Wandscherer

Elisabeth Wandschrer
This bold lady was one of the 16 wives of Jan van Leiden, dictator and leading figure the Anabaptist commune in Munster during the early 1500s. Elisabeth criticized her husband for letting the poor of the city starve while Leiden and his entourage lived in luxury. She returned her jewelry to him in protest and requested to leave the household. In response, Leiden had his young wife publicly beheaded in 1535.

Anna Maria van Schurman

AnnaMaria_van Schurman

Born in Cologne in 1607, this well educated 17th century woman spent most of her life in the Netherlands where she was permitted an education. She spoke 14 languages including Hebrew, Arabic, Ethiopian, Syriac and Aramaic – and excelled in literature, art and music. Later she was the personal assistant of Jean de Labadie remaining heavily involved and his cult religion, Labadism, until her death.

Alexandrine Tinne

Alexine Tinne
Recognized as being the first European woman to attempt to cross the Sahara Desert, Alexandrine was born into a family of adventurers in The Hague in 1835. Her mother accompanied her on some of her earlier forays into the Middle East. Alexandrine died at the age of 33, murdered by her local guides during an expedition.

Aletta Jacobs

The first Dutch woman to complete a university degree (medicine). After graduating in 1878, Jacobs ran a free medical clinic to treat destitute women and children and was instrumental in the manufacture of the pessaries she gave to women to control their fertility. Throughout her life she fought for equal rights for women in the Netherlands and around the world.

Mati Hari

mata hari
Born in to a wealthy Leeuwarden family in 1876, Margaretha Zelle abandoned her studies when she responded to an newspaper advertisement posted by an Indonesian-based Dutch Army Captain seeking a wife. A few years later, she abandoned the practical and abusive marriage, returned to Europe, and established herself as an exotic dancer and courtesan to men of influence and great wealth. When her dancing career faded, she became a spy for the German army during WWI. She was captured and executed by a firing squad in France in 1917.

Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer

Kenau Hasselaar
A wood merchant from Haaarlem, Kenau become a legendary folk hero for her fearless defense of the city against the Spanish invaders during the siege of the city in 1573. By the 19th century, it was even said she had led an army of 300 women against the Spanish. There are now a lot of doubts about her real role. She was not, for example, included on the official list of war criminals. After the war, she resumed wood trading again and is thought to have died at the hands of pirates in 1588,

Marga Klompe

Marge klompe
Referred to by her critics as ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Succour’, Marga Klompe was born in Arnhem in 1912. With her university studies (medicine) interrupted by WWII, Marga became active in the Dutch underground movement. In 1948 she joined the House of Representatives and in 1956 became the first female secretary of the Netherlands focusing on Social Affairs. Her main contribution to Dutch history is the passing of the Social Security Bill in 1963.

Fanny Blankers-Koen

fannie blankers koen

Fanny was a 30-year-old mother of two when she took the world by storm at the 1948 Olympics in London, winning gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 metres, 80 metres hurdle and 4×100 metres relay. Fanny, who was also known as ‘the flying housewife’ inspired many women and sport stars over the decades and was voted female athlete of the century by the IAAF in 1999.

Hannie Schaft

Hannie Schaft

Born Jannetje Johanna Schaft in Haarlem in 1920, Hannie was a member of the Dutch Communist resistance during WWII. As a law student at Amsterdam University she was expelled after refusing to sign a declaration of allegiance to the German Occupation. She is known to have carried out attacks on German soldiers, collaborators and traitors. Hannie Schaft, also known as ‘the girl with the red hair’, was shot dead three weeks before the end of the war in the dunes at Bloemendaal.

Sonja Barend

sonja barend
Sonja, a feminist and television personality was born in Amsterdam in 1940. For about 30 years, Barend presented her own television programme, Sonja, voicing her own ideological and political ideas, and creating public discussion on taboo topics like feminism, homo- and other sexualities. After her retirement in 2006, she was awarded the Order of Orange-Nassau.

10 endangered species which might disappear from Netherlands

The last official government list of endangered Dutch species was published way back in 2009. It’s not pleasant reading and if you’re a mushroom lover (the kind that gets excited about spotting them, we mean) you will immediately be plunged into a deep depression. It’s not just the species themselves, it’s their wonderful names. Somber Staalsteeltje (literaly: Sombre Steel stem) or Tandsporig Hazepootje, (Toothspore hare’s foot) and many other weird and wonderful names will never be heard again.

Here are 10 species that are on the verge of an obituary. Unfortunately the full list is much longer.

1 Garden doormouse

garden doormouse.jpg
Eliyomus quercinus
(alias the Eikelmuis, or garden dormouse) is a sleepy creature. This rodent spends around seven months of the year asleep and that is one of the reasons it is so vulnerable. It has also fallen prey to the Dutch disease of ‘opruimeritus’ which involves clearing away anything that is deemed unsightly such as messy sheds or hay lofts which is where the dormouse likes to rest its fluffy head.

2 Wild hamster

wild hamster
Another cuddly candidate for the chop is the hamster (Cricetus cricetus and we don’t mean the serial hamster in your child’s cage). It is also called Korenwolf, or rye wolf, for its voracious appetite for rye. The animal is still occasionally spotted in Limburg – usually on a piece of land earmarked for development. A captive breeding programme is underway to try to increase their numbers.

3 Hazel doormouse

hazel doormouse
Not acutely threatened but certainly on the danger list is the Hazelmuis (Muscardinus avellanarius) or Hazel dormouse. See Eliyomus quercinus.

4 Black rat

black rat
You would think that Rattus rattus, or the black rat  would be able to look after himself but no, he too is on the danger list. The black rat has been with us for centuries and he’s not leaving the world stage any time soon. In the Netherlands, however, he’s having a thin time of it, if we can believe the ministry’s Red list. Rattus rattus’ problems include fierce competition from the brown rat and the use of grain silos instead of easily accessible farm buildings. The rat has also been widely killed off by man.

5 Wall lizard

wall lizard
Of the reptiles it’s almost last orders for Podacis muralis (the Muurhagedis or Wall lizard). It is still around on the bulwarks of the city of Maastricht, in the province of Limburg, were the council are trying to respect the animal’s habitat whilst at the same time giving way to ‘architectural opruimeritis’ i.e. making old buildings look as if they were built yesterday.

6 Smooth snake

smooth snake
The Coronella austriaca (the Gladde slang or Smooth snake) is not in any immediate danger of slithering off into the distance but it’s far from safe. This non-venomous snake doesn’t like to be disturbed. Neither does it like high temperatures which make it highly suited to the Netherlands but it needs a bit of space as well: trainee soldiers running around and messing up their habitat, lots of building activity, sand extraction and above all traffic are all reasons for its decline. Its preferred food, other reptiles and rodents, are not in great supply, another reason the species is not doing too well.

7 Yellow-bellied toad

yellow bellied toad
Of the amphibians we need to keep an eye on the jolly Bombina variegata (the Geelbuikvuurpad or Yellow-bellied toad) he’s not much to look at from above and doesn’t flaunt his assets (unlike some species we could mention) which include his splendid yellow tummy. The Yellow-bellied toad is becoming very rare. His only habitat at present is in Limburg where he favours shallow water to generally splash about and procreate.

8 European tree frog

european tree frog
Hyla arborea (the Boomkikker or European tree frog) is a splendid looking animal, bright green with a dark racing stripe on the side, truly the Porsche among frogs. His particular problems are acidity of his natural habitat, i.e. trees, water pollution through pesticides and manure and too many fish (which gobble up the little frogs). Some people catch tree frogs and sell them.

9 & 10 Heath Fritillary and Dingy Skipper

dingy skipper butterfly
Butterflies are on the red list too. Melitaea athalia (the Bosparelmoervlinder or heath fritillary) is currently threatened with extinction. And so is Erynnis tages (the Bruin dikkopje or Dingy skipper (!)). Again Limburg is home to the two remaining populations of the Dingy Skipper. Extensive mowing, a lack of open vegetation to lay its eggs and a lack of other populations nearby to provide partners is threatening this butterfly’s chances.

There is, of course, great excitement in the Netherlands at the thought of the wolf returning to the wilds of Limburg or the east. And in case you thought these endangered species are all a bit too small, don’t forget the Netherlands has its very own Big Five.

Thanks to all the wonderful folk of wikimedia commons for the photos.

Our 10 favourite places to visit in Amsterdam

Okay, we are not being totally honest here… there are other places we like to visit as well… but here are 10 things which think are really worth doing in Amsterdam – outside the usual tourist trail.

The Bible Museum
We think the Bible museum is quite interesting in its own right but in reality it comes here only to gawp at the 17th and 18th century splendour of its surroundings and to have tea in its splendid garden. The museum takes up two of the four homes built by seriously rich merchant Jacob Cromhout (1608-1669) on Herengracht.

Bible museum

A crochety neighbour refused to yield to the power of money and stubbornly held on to a piece of land needed by Cromhout to build his town palace. Architect Philips Vingboons then decided to make two of the houses smaller. The neighbour who probably realised he wouldn’t have much of a view left then changed his mind but by that time it was too late. Cromhout went to live in number 366 (with 368 the site of the museum) and prudently rented out the rest, undoubtedly for quite a lot of money. There’s a beautiful 18th century staircase, painted ceilings, family portraits and lots of antique baubles and bits.  Website

The Oranjesluizen (sluices)
The Oranjesluizen are a system of locks built in the IJ in the early 19th century as part of the construction of the Noordzee Canal. This immense undertaking was meant to keep ships coming into Amsterdam harbour from getting stuck in the mud. The locks play a vital role in the water management of the city to this day. Engineer Johannis de Rijke who was responsible for the project is largely forgotten here but thankful Japanese, for whom de Rijke built dams for Osaka harbour, gave him a statue and apparently travel to Amsterdam every year to perform a Buddhist ceremony on his grave. What all his is leading up to is this: take a walk from Zeeburg to the picturesque Durgerdammerdijk and Schellingwouderdijk via de Oranjesluizen. It is very nice.

Tasjesmuseum Hendrikje
The museum of bags and purses, as it calls itself in English would force any anti–bag, multi-pocket coat wearer to his or her knees. From 15th century gothic to 21st century loopy this museum has the biggest and most beautiful collection of bags in the world.

Resist temptation

Resist temptation

It is a strong visitor who will walk out of the museum shop without having purchased at least a mini bag. Personal NbN favourites are the 1935 clutch representing the ‘Normandie’ and a forties bag by Anne Marie of France in the shape of an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne sticking out. The museum is housed in a beautiful former mayor’s house on Herengracht. Also nice for a high tea or lunch if you’re feeling flush. Website

Museum Het Schip
If you want to find out about the architectural style that managed in a short time (1910 – 1930) to become pretty influential in the Netherlands the place to go to is Museum Het Schip in Amsterdam. The building itself is a prime example of Amsterdamse School: built in brick with great attention to detail, from fancy ornamental brickwork on the façades and ‘laddered’ windows to street numbers and doors in the same style. The care and attention lavished on the building is all the more remarkable because it was built as a public housing complex and it is not surprising is was quickly dubbed ‘a palace for workers’. Architect Michel de Klerk’s brief included a post office and this is the architect’s only surviving interior. Website

The De Bazel building is undoubtedly one of the grandest buildings in Amsterdam, both on the outside and the – completely original – inside. It was built between 1919 and 1926 by Karel de Bazel for the Nederlandsche Handelsmaatschappij or Dutch trading company and was home to ABN Amro until it made way for the city archives (Stadsarchief) in 2007.

This is where ABN Amro used to keep your money

This is where ABN Amro used to keep your money

A guided tour will take you along the impressive staircases and stained glass windows to some awe-inspiring offices in which it is easy to imagine a young clerk quaking before a stern faced cigar smoking board member. In the vault downstairs there is a permanent exhibition ranging from the archive’s collection – including official documents dating back hundreds of years to pictures of Johan Cruijff and concert posters. There is also a nice cafe.  Website

Photography museum Foam is literally a stone’s throw from the De Bazel building so if you happen to be too late for a guided tour you can always pop in here. Its interior is starkly modern and we always feel completely inadequate sartorially speaking as the museum seems to somehow demand Ann Demeulemeester or at least head-to-foot black. But that’s completely beside the point as the museum has hosted some brilliant exhibitions over the years and no doubt will continue to do so.  And they have good quiche for lunch. Website

Brouwerij ’t IJ
Brouwerij ’t IJ micro brewery in the now increasingly trendy Oostelijke binnenstad ( go to the Stadsarchief to see what this neighbourhood looked like not too long ago) serves a couple of very nice beers among which Zatte and Natte, the difference between which you will find it increasingly difficult to remember as the time passes, and a sensational ossenworst. Only open from 2am to 8pm. Check the website for guided tours. Website

Hortus Botanicus (botanical gardens)
The Hortus as most people call it is another excuse to have tea and cakes in an urban oasis. Not that you’d need much of a one: there are lots of interesting things going on in the Hortus which by the by is one of the oldest in the country.

hortus botancus

Take, for example, the wondrous Victoria Amazonica  which only blooms at night when it produces up to 30 flowers which are white on the first night and pink on the second.  The Hortus website gives out Victoria-will-bloom alerts when this is about to happen. You can also wander through the palm houses and check out the desert temperature when it’s cold outside. It also has a shop which is good for nice if pricey Sinterklaas and Christmas pressies. website

The Tuschinski film theatre (1921) is a folly of truly magnificent proportions. Owner Abraham Tuschinski incorporated everything he liked and then some in a building that combines Jugendstil, Amsterdamse School and Art Deco. When the theatre was restored in 2002 a number of treasures were rediscovered, including some 18 Art Deco paintings and the Peacock ceiling in the main auditorium. The light fittings in particular are very beautiful. You will need at least two guided tours to take it all in. The main cinema has boxes at the back where you can relax in wide seats with a glass of bubbly and nachos during a blockbuster.  Website

Eye Film Institute
The Eye Film Institute has the most comfortable seats of any Amsterdam cinema. Forget the spectacular architecture, the fact it takes a jolly boat ride to get there (If you’re not an Amsterdam Noord dweller of course) and the wonderful view, it all counts as nothing compared to the softness of the seats. Don’t snore that’s all. Website

10 English expressions involving Dutch

In the 17th century, when the English and the Dutch were trying to lord it over the rest of the world,  the English tried to smear the competition by prefixing anything cowardly, fake or otherwise worthy of disdain with ‘Dutch’. Some of these expressions are still around and have taken on additional meanings.

Double Dutch is not only gobbledegook, or gibberish, it is also a rope skipping game played by two people turning two long ropes in the opposite direction while a third person jumps up and down in the middle trying not to get hopelessly entangled. This versatile little idiom also means using both a condom and the pill at the same time. Context is all, obviously.

double dutch

A Dutch uncle is someone most people would want to avoid. Someone who talks to you like a Dutch uncle is usually berating or admonishing you. Unless of course you have an uncle who is actually from the Netherlands in which case he might be very nice and never tell you off.

A Dutch wife is a rattan bolster used in the tropics, a hot water bottle and oddly associated with the two the Japanese name for a plastic sex doll, apparently of the cheaper kind thus confirming the Dutch reputation for stinginess.

(We tried to find an illustration for this one but ended up on some very dodgy websites indeed)

Going Dutch is the perfectly sensible practice of going out for a meal in the understanding that each of the participants pays for his or her own share instead of divvying up the bill between you which invariably favours the heavy drinkers and leaves the frugal I-only-want-a-starter types out of pocket.

A Dutch treat on the other hand is a completely different kettle of fish. If you are invited to go out for a meal thinking you will be treated only to find out that you are expected to cough up half the money then you have taken for a ride, or Dutch treat. If this happens to you don’t hesitate to be a Dutch uncle and berate the person severely before stalking off.

Dutch courage is usually displayed after imbibing a lot of alcohol. Thus: a semblance of courage.

Believe it or not, this is not a Dutch roll

Believe it or not, this is not a Dutch roll

A Dutch roll is not a cheese sandwich but the left to right tipping movement made by an aircraft. It is said to derive from the rolling motion of a particular design of Dutch ship. It could also come from the movement made while speed skating, a sport the Dutch are particularly proficient in.

Taking Dutch leave means defecting. The Dutch are not alone in absconding: there is also such a thing as taking French leave which means doing a moonlight flit.

A Dutch oven is a cooking pot in America but it is also used to describe the horrible practice of trapping a bed-fellow under the blankets after releasing a particularly nasty fart. Perhaps you didn’t want to know that but here we are.

dutch oven

Looks like an ordinary cast iron cooking pot to us

A Dutch agreement is an agreement made between two people who are drunk (‘I will go halves with you if I win the lottery’) and which neither of them remember afterwards which is fortunate if the lottery is indeed won by either party.

All suggestions and contributions and criticisms most welcome, as ever.



The 17 million Dutch have 29.7 million pets

If you can call the fish in your pond and racing pigeons pets, that is. According to Elsevier, the Dutch have the following pets:

British short hair grey cat  and french bull dog puppy dog

9.6 million pond fish

6.6 million aquarium fish

5 million racing pigeons

2.9 million cats

2 million birds

1.5 million dogs

900,000 rabbits

900,000 rodents

300,000 reptiles

In 2913, the Dutch government published new rules listing mammals which are suitable to keep as pets. The approved list contains animals such as dogs, cats, hamsters, mink and – bizarrely – water buffalo. A second list containing animals which can be kept under specific conditions includes ferrets, varieties of dwarf hamster and wallabies. Mammals not on either list – like lions – may not be kept at all.


10 facts about Amsterdam’s Vondel park

The privately-funded Vondel park in Amsterdam  opened in 1865 and was designed by the Zocher father and son landscape gardening team. In 1953 the park was sold to the city council for the token sum of one guilder with the proviso it remained open to walkers, cyclists and continued to stage musical performances.

At 47 hectares, it might be a baby compared with Hyde Park in London or New York’s Central Park. But it packs in a lot of trees, cafes and visitors.

vondel park

4,980 trees – give or take the odd one or two that blow down in each winter storm

66 different types of trees – presuming they have not blown down

275 street lanterns to cast a ghostly glow on a winter night.

17 works of art, including a fish sculpture designed by Picasso

Picasso fish in vondel park

200 waste bins – which is no where near enough on a busy summer’s day

26 places where dog owners can pick up a dog mess bag

Four cafes

One open air theatre

12 million visitors a year

One stork family and hundreds of bright green shrieking ring-necked parakeets which nest in the trees.

tree in vondel park

Thanks to the Parool for most of the facts


The 10 most hated Dutch taxes

We love this little list from Elsevier magazine so much – the 10 most hated Dutch taxes. There are of course, many more.

There is no escaping accijns

There is no escaping accijns

1. Erfenisbelasting – inheritance tax
First levied in the 16th century, this is a tax on your inheritance. A widow of widower gets the first €627,367 of their partner’s wealth tax free but children only get €18,868 before they have to pay tax. We love the precision of those odd €367 and €868 euros. If you leave money to a mate, they can only accept €2,092 tax free. The actual tax itself ranges from 10% to 40% depending on how much money is involved and your relationship to the deceased.

2. Vermogensrendementsheffing – asset tax
This is a tax which assumes you make a 4% return on your assets and should, therefore pay 30% tax on this fictional increase. Given interest rates on savings are well below this at the moment, you are actually losing money on your rainy day set-aside. You don’t have to pay tax on the first €21,139 – that calculation down to the last euro again…

3. Energiebelasting – energy tax
You pay 11.85 cents tax for every kilowatt hour of electricity you use and 18.94 cents for every cubic meter of gas. Then you pay 21% value-added tax over the total energy bill – or tax on your tax.

4. Onroerendezaakbelasting (ozb) – property tax
If you are a home owner, you pay tax based on the value of your property to help pay for everything your local council provides, like schools, street lighting etc. Tenants do not have to pay towards this.

5. Brandstofaccijns – fuel tax
The reason Dutch petrol, diesel and lpg is among the most expensive on the planet. At least 60% of the cost of a litre of petrol is due to tax.

6. Assurantiebelasting – insurance tax
We all know the Dutch love insurance – perhaps a nice list for a future occasion – so this is a guaranteed moneymaker for the treasury. You pay 21% tax over the cost of all your insurance policies.

7. Tabaksaccijns – tobacco duty
Smokers hate them but non smokers think they should be much higher. And if everyone stopped smoking, the government would have to find an extra €2.3bn to fill the gap.

8. Bijtelling leaseauto – company car tax
If you have a company car and drive more than 500 kilometres a year in it for private reasons, you have to pay tax. The taxman will add 25% of the catalogue value of your car to your income and you’ll pay tax on it – how much depends on whether your car is electric, a hybrid, or heavily polluting. The rates are currently the subject of intense political lobbying.

9. Leidingwaterbelasting – drinking water tax
This has been steadily increasing over the years. In 2014, you pay 0.33 cents in tax for every cubic metre of mains water you use. You can check out this and all the other environment-related taxes on the tax office website.

10. Loon en inkomstenbelasting – income tax
The Dutch top tariff of 52% on earnings over €56,532 is among the highest in the world – most countries with such a high top rate don’t start levying it on such a low income. The government has agreed to cut it by a fraction, very slowly, over a number of years……

The one thing the tax office has pledged to cut is the number of blue envelopes it sends. They want us to do it all online and are working out ways to help all those who are not computer literate do their duty as well.

Eight Dutch road signs which we could do without

Sometimes we just want to scream about all the street pollution in terms of those official signs everywhere telling us what to do, what not to do and how to do it. Here is a little collection of eight.

No drinking

No drinking

This delightful sign can be found at the end of our street.  I’m not sure who it is aimed at? People who drink out of bottles? So that would be teenagers knocking back Bacardi breezers before the school dance to get round the no alcohol under 18 rule and winos…  that’ll be effective then.

No smoking weed

This sign was launched in Amsterdam a few years ago to a great deal of media publicity but they are very hard to spot because they are always getting stolen.


What can we say. Only in the Netherlands could they devised a street sign which tells you that you face a €50 fine for doing something which is illegal anyway.

In case you wondered… you are not allowed to smoke weed in some areas because of the nuisance in causes in the neighbourhood.

Should you commit such a heinous crime.. beware if you run into one of these signs….

dna spray road sign

What is all this about then? They’ve got some magic rays which can find out your dna just by blasting you? Eat your heart out CSI.

Paid parking

Now for something completely different. A sign which tells you how to do something. Or does it?


This amazingly detailed sign explains how to pay to park in certain parts of Amsterdam. Pretty clear isn’t it?

First you park your car and then you find the nearest parking meter which may be a quite a distance away. Then you… well then you type in your KEN TE KEN. That is, as this artfully-thought-out little illustration shows us, your NUM BER PL ATE.

If you don’t know it off by heart you walk back to the car to find out the number and then back to the meter and start all over again. You may find yourself doing this several times because you haven’t got a pen on you.

Then you dig out your credit card or a direct debit card and use your pincode to pay for however long you think you might need. No cash – too tempting for thieves and someone has to count it. Or you can pay by mobile phone – that’s the secret code at the bottom

Then when you’ve done all that, you may well find yourself waiting 15 minutes for the ticket that doesn’t come. No ticket. No wasting paper and allowing people to pass on unused minutes to the next driver here. That illustration of someone taking a ticket out of the slot is actually someone inserting a payment card. Sorry.

Get dating

There are other weird parking-related signs out there too.


The good old Dutch. They just love handing out permits.  This sign would appear to indicate that the parking place is for people who have a permit to date by car…

No bike parking

move your bike


Don’t do anything

There is also information overload.


What a friendly place Amsterdam’s Vondel Park is. No drums, no trumpet playing, no selling, no amplified music and no barbecues – apart from the official barbecue spots.

But of course overloaded signs are not just confined to the cities. Here is a little gem or two, courtesy of Onno Aerden’s Twitter feed.

too much information

And all for a little country path. Amazing.

Seven Dutch artists and why they are so important

Dutch artists have been pioneers of artistic techniques and evolving aesthetics long before Dutch designers took centre stage in the 20th century. Here is our list of seven key artists who had a major impact on the art world.

1 Pieter Bruegel The Elder  (1525-1569)
Period: Flemish Renaissance

How many Netherlandish proverbs can you spot?

How many Netherlandish proverbs can you spot?

Born in Breda, Bruegel lived in France and Italy before settling in Antwerp and becoming a prominent figure of Flemish Renaissance painting. Called Peasant Bruegel for his depiction of peasants in his paintings, his works were laden with social commentary. Whether it’s Hunters in the Snow with its secular representation of country life or Netherlandish Proverbs, his works explored conflict between people and society. Bruegel also evolved the contemporary style of landscape paintings to include scenes from everyday life.

 2 Frans Hals (1582 – 1666)
Period: Dutch Golden Age

Catherina Hooft with her nurse

Catherina Hooft with her nurse

Born in South Holland, Hals lived in Haarlem for most of his life and became the foremost portrait artists among the wealthy of the area. He mastered a technique of keeping the brushstrokes visible – something that was considered almost a flaw. The Metropolitan Museum of Art points out that his bold brushwork went on to inspire Realist and Impressionist painters.

3 Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Period: Dutch Golden Age

Forget the lady, here's the old man in red

Forget the lady, here’s the old man in red

Though the The Night Watch is one of the first paintings we associate with the Dutch master, Rembrandt also had a lasting impact on portraiture. His use of lighting creates a patch of triangle light on the subject’s face – illuminating one half in a chiaroscuro effect. The technique is used in portrait photography even today and called Rembrandt lighting.

 4 Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)
Period: Delft School

Officer and a laughing girl - is he also a gentleman?

Officer and a laughing girl – is he also a gentleman?

Another Dutch artist known for his mastery of light, some schools of thought credit him with the earliest use of photography in art. Some claim that Vermeer used a Camera Obscura, a precursor to the camera, to plan the perspective in his painting. One example of this is Office and a Laughing Girl, where the officer looms large because he is closer to focal point. Vermeer’s technique for creating light and texture – dots and spots of colour – was another legacy for artists to take up.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Period: Post-Impressionist

Wish we were there: cafe terrace on the Place du Forum in Arles at night

Wish we were there: cafe terrace on the Place du Forum in Arles at night

Night skies brought alive by swirling colours, strokes of yellow and blue for houses and skies, fields and meadows –the seeming stress on emotion over aesthetic in Van Gogh’s art is often considered the start of Expressionism. In 2007, the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam explored the influence of his art on the 20th century movement. ‘German and Austrian Expressionist artists… responded not only to the formal qualities of his paintings but also to the passionate intensity of his vision and the dramatic story of his life… The Expressionists saw Van Gogh as the trailblazer of modern art,’ wrote Neue Galerie, which hosted the same exhibition in New York.

6 Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Period: De Stijl Art Movement

Classic Mondriaan

Classic Mondriaan

In the late 1910s, Mondrian came in contact with Theo van Doesburg who is considered the founder of the De Stijl movement. While Cubism and Abstraction were a great influence, the artist had his own style that he carefully evolved. Between 1917 and 1918, Mondrian wrote extensively on his new artistic theory Neo Plasticism. For him, horizontal and vertical lines (which were ‘constructed with awareness but not with calculation’) could become strong works of art and forms of beauty.

 7 M C Escher (1898-1972)

7. Escher - Waterfall

Maurits Cornelis Escher’s highly individual art is difficult to club with any contemporary movement. However later in his life some did group him with Op Art (optical art that plays with illusion). Escher’s exploration of impossible reality, inspired by his understanding of mathematical concepts such as tessellations, polyhedrons and space, marked in a shift in how artists played with their canvas. From merging planes in Waterfall to infinity in Snakes, his work paved the way for artistic and mathematical collaboration.

Obviously, this is far from an exhaustive list, so please feel free to submit your own ideas. We’re always open to improvements!


10 traditional Dutch recipes – not all of which involve mashed potato

It would be very easy to be snotty about Dutch food and talk about snack bars, chicken with apple puree and the ubiquitous ‘ovenschotel’.  We could go on and on about boiled chicory with ham and cheese sauce and meatballs with green beans and potatoes – served at 6pm sharp.

The classic Dutch dinner

The classic Dutch dinner

But we won’t be doing any of that. We have a sneaking appreciation for some traditional Dutch recipes – especially those guaranteed to get you through the cold winters. Here are 10 you really should try.

1. Stamppot and its ilk
Let us get this out of the way to start with. When it comes to food it seems the Dutch like nothing better than to mash things. They cannot put a number of perfectly nice ingredients together without taking a hand blender to them. But then, it’s difficult to make a hash of a mash – the basic ingredients being simply potato and some vegetable or other. There is an endless list of things you can mash. Here’s some examples.

Hutspot is said to have originated in Leiden in 1574. The Spanish, on the run from William of Orange, lifted  the siege of the city in a hurry and left a simmering pot of onions, carrots and parsnips (later to be replaced by potatoes). The famished people of Leiden, presumably all armed with forks, mashed the lot and invented hutspot. It is traditionally eaten with ‘klapstuk’ or boiled beef but we like it with bacon chops.

Hete bliksem means ‘hot lightning’ and is made of apple and potato, mashed up of course. Use sour apples  (Goudreinette) and put in lots of crispy fried bacon cubes.

Guess which one this is?

Guess which one this is?

Boerenkool and andijviestamppot are, respectively, potato and curly kale mash and potato and curly endive mash. Serve with rookworst (smoked sausage) and fried bacon bits. The more green vegetable the better. The other big hitter is zuurkool stamppot – pickled cabbage and mash which is a distinctly acquired taste.

2 Beetroot and herring salad
Another simple dish consisting of pickled herring, cooked beetroot, some gherkins, pickled onions, boiled potatoes and some white wine vinegar. Cut everything up in small pieces and mix (not mash).

3 Wentelteefje
Good camping food, a wentelteefje is a slice of white bread sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar dipped in milk and egg and then fried in butter.

Cut the crusts off as an extra touch

Cut the crusts off as an extra touch

‘Ey, waer ick t’huys alleen, ick backte wentel-teven Van suyckert witte broot, en butter-smeerigh vet,’ wrote one A. van de Venne in 1623.  ‘Were I home alone I would bake some wentelteven of sugared white bread and greasy butter.’ It must have been the 17th century equivalent of that ultimate solitary culinary pleasure, the bacon sandwich.

The origin of the word is a little obscure. ‘Wentelen’ means to turn over which is understandable enough but teefje mean ‘bitch’ and is therefore slightly puzzling. ‘Teef’ may have been a sort of confectionary in the olden days.

4 Spek en bonen
Another simple winter favourite: bruine bonen (brown beans), smoked bacon, throw together et voilà. ‘Voor spek en bonen meedoen’ originally meant to do something for very little remuneration and is one of several Dutch sayings involving beans. It now means your presence does not really bring anything to the proceedings.

5  Kapucijners with spek and piccalilly
We have no idea what the proper name for this dish is because everyone we ask has a different answer. This feast is based on big Dutch peas known as kapucijners which are cooked and then served with slices of bacon, smoked sausage, boiled potatoes, apple puree, silverskin onions and piccalilly… at least.

Food fit for a captain


May also be known as the Captain’s Dinner, raasdonders or Zeeuwse rijstafel (with the addition of rice).

6 Draadjesvlees
The perfect winter warmer. Draadjesvlees is beef that has been simmering in stock for about a month with a few spices thrown in. No, it’s not a month, but it is a good few hours –  long enough for the meat to become very tender and fall apart in little threads, or draadjes.

Not a bit of mashed potato in sight

Not a bit of mashed potato in sight

Not surprisingly, old-fashioned draadjesvlees has been reclaimed by the slow food movement. Serve with red cabbage and apple (from a jar) and boiled potatoes.

7 Griesmeelpudding
Beloved by some, gruesome childhood memory for others, griesmeelpudding  is semolina pudding. It is often covered in bessensap, or berry coulis. Here’s a recipe, courtesy of Ingrid Weijers.

100 grams (3/4 cup) semolina flour
75 grams (1/3 cup) sugar
8 grams vanilla sugar (can substitute with 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
pinch salt
1 liter (4 1/4 cups) whole milk
1 egg white

  • Beat egg white until stiff.
  • Combine the semolina flour, sugar, salt and vanilla sugar (if you are using vanilla extract do NOT add it yet).
  • Bring the milk to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Gradually add the semolina mixture while continuously stirring so that it does not burn.
  • After 2 minutes, remove the pot from the heat. Continue to stir until the mixture is cooled. To speed up the cooling process, you can place the pot in a pan of cold water. (Add the vanilla extract to pudding as it cools if you are substituting.)
  • When the mixture is no longer hot, fold in the egg white. This will give the pudding an airy quality.
  • Pour the mixture into a pudding mold that has been slightly moistened. (I used six small silicone molds.) Lightly tap the mold on the counter in order to remove large air bubbles.
  • Cover the mold with plastic wrap. When the pudding has cooled to room temperature, transfer the pudding to the refrigerator. Chill for 2 hours.

8 Hangop

This is another dessert. You can buy it in the supermarket but don’t because it is laughably easy to make. All you need is a wet tea towel, a sieve and a container to sit under the sieve. Pour a litre of yoghurt onto the  wet tea towel, cover and leave for 8 hours in the fridge.

Hangop in the making

Hangop in the making

What you are left with is hangop and very delicious it is too, especially with fruit or honey. The name has nothing to do with any hang ups the Dutch may have about the quality of their cuisine. The tea towel with yoghurt used to be ‘hung up’ for easy dripping hence the name.

9 Erwtensoep
No list of Dutch dishes would be complete without the perfect lunch on a winter’s day – thick, creamy, sausage-filled pea soup. Pumpernickel bread with katenspek (yes, smoked bacon again) on the side is a must, as is a strapping Belgian beer.

Here’s what you need:

1 1/2 cups (10.5 oz) dried green split peas (300 g)
3 1/2 oz Dutch speklapjes (fresh sliced pork belly), (100 g), or thick-cut bacon
1 pork chop (5-6 oz/150 g)  1 stock cube (you could use vegetable/pork/chicken)
2 celery sticks
2-3 carrots, sliced (1/2 cup/3 1/2 oz/100 g)
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
1 small onion, chopped
1 small leek, sliced (1/2 cup/3 1/2 oz/100 g)
1/4 celeriac, cubed (1/2 cup/3 /12 oz/100 g)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Here’s how you make it:

Bring 3 3/4 pints water (1.75 litres) to the boil in a large soup pot, along with the split peas, stock cube, pork chop and bacon. Skim off any froth forming on top. Put the lid on the pot and leave to boil softly for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Take the pork chop out with a pair of tongs, de-bone and thinly slice the meat. Set aside. Add the vegetables to the boiling broth and leave to cook for another 30 minutes, adding a little extra water every time the soup starts to catch.
Add the smoked sausage for the last 15 minutes, put the pork chop meat back in and then devour.

10 Haagse bluf
The name of this dessert roughly translates as ‘all talk and no substance from the Hague’ which may or may not have something to do with The Hague being the political capital of the Netherlands.

All hot air?

All hot air?

Haagse Bluf is a dessert made up entirely of fluff. Beat two egg whites with 100 grams of powdered sugar, then adorn with a bit of berry juice. Serve in a glass with ladies fingers biscuits.

Of course, there are many other dishes we could have included here… please, feel free to send us your favourites.