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Amsterdam 2013

If you are looking for a holiday destination for 2013 I can recommend Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, which was named by Lonely Planet as second on the list of the 10 cities in the world worth visiting this year (the first being San Francisco). The reason is that there are a lot of anniversaries, among which I find most interesting: the canal network of the town turns 400 years old, the painter Vincent van Gogh was born 160 years ago and 40 years ago the museum dedicated to him was opened in Amsterdam. This museum is being renovated and will be reopened on May 1st 2013 (until April 25th a van Gogh exhibition can be seen in the Hermitage museum, also in Amsterdam). After a general renovation which lasted 10 years, on April 13th 2013 Rijksmuseum (the royal museum) will reopen, being one of the most important Dutch museums.

See here the Lonely Planet site and below some photos taken in Amsterdam:

If you feel like booking a last minute trip, starting last year the third Saturday in January is the National Tulip Day, which opens the tulip season lasting until the end of April. This year the event will be on January 19th , when the main square in Amsterdam, De Dam, will be filled with about 200.000 tulips that can be plucked by flower enthusiasts from 13.30 until 18.00 (or until the last tulip). Last year about 10.000 people have plucked tulips, so the chances are big that it will be crowded.

The Netherlands really deserves to be called “country of tulips”, as it is the country with the highest tulip export in the world, about 1,7 billion tulips reach about 100 countries each year.

Do you have holiday plans? If not, why not come to Amsterdam?

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Posted by on 10 January 2013 in ENGLISH POST

 

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Holiday Dutch style

At the beginning of the year, the Dutch make holiday plans. The holiday fair is open these days and a lot of commercials are being aired announcing rebates for those who book their holiday early for the rest of the year.

Two types of holidays seem to me typical for the Dutch:

1. For many Dutch the first holiday of the year is a week of skiing. I find it amusing how eager they are, considering that one cannot ski in the Netherlands, as the country doesn’t have mountains. The Dutch fill up their cars and start on a journey of more than 1.000 km to France, Austria or Switzerland, where they ski, their children take skiing lessons and at the end of the day the main activity is the “aprés ski”, meaning parties in huts mostly accompanied by poor music (schlagers, carnival music).

For the less fortunate Dutch there are “gipsvluchten” (cast flights). I thought it was very funny that there is a dedicated word for these flights bringing the Dutch who are injured during skiing or snowboarding from the mountains back to the Netherlands. In similar cases, but then during the summer holidays, the Dutch who get ill can come home using the “parasolvluchten” (parasol flights), mostly from the popular destinations like Greece, Spain, Turkey.

2. When spring begins, the Dutch start to become recognizable on the European roads with their caravans or, the more luxury versions, the campers.

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Especially for the families with small children and with a more limited budget, the camping seems to be the first option for a holiday. They either park their own caravan for 2-3 weeks on a camping or they hire one there, either way the camping loving Dutch seem not to need too much luxury. A typical image for the camping life is crossing the distance from the caravan to the toilet with a roll of toilet paper under one’s arm. Imagining a holiday with such conditions, with no bathroom of my own, with neighbors you cannot avoid or ignore, stuck in one place for the whole time… I don’t really understand the charm of the camping. The children have fun at the swimming pool or on the playgrounds and that seems very important for the parents.

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A real case I have heard of and which I find unbelievable: a caravan owning family has spent a holiday on a camping just outside their town and they used to come home every now and then to do the laundry or clean the dishes.

I have also heard of Dutch who go camping with their caravan and who return every year to the same place, same camping. That is also something I cannot understand.

The year 2013 seems to be bleak as far as holidays are concerned, because of the economical crisis (a term we hear every day on the news, I don’t know about you, but I am saturated with this obsession) it seems that about 27% of the Dutch will not go on a holiday this year. Last year 22% of the Dutch were in this position.

 
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Posted by on 8 January 2013 in ENGLISH POST

 

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Sinterklaas, the Santa of Dutch children

Almost a year ago I promised to come back with details over the favourite holiday of the Dutch: Sinterklaas.

Sinterklaas is a Santa and is being celebrated on December 5th. The Romanian readers would say that’s nothing special, we also have Saint Nicholas!

And they would be right, but only partially! The name Sinterklaas is an abreviation of Sint Nikolaas, so yes, we are talking about the same Saint Nicholas.

(Furthermore, the name of Santa Claus originates from the name Sinterklaas!)

What is unheard of is that Sint (this is his nickname) comes to Holland far before his birthday (December 5th), this being also the reason why he comes: to celebrate it. Sint arrives the first Saturday after St. Maarten, which is celebrated on November 11th (also the date that the Carnival period begins). To stray off even more and keep you hanging, you should know that  St. Maarten is a kind of Halloween, as children walk from house to house hoping to get sweets (they also carry lampions).

This year, Sinterklaas arrived in the Netherlands on Saturday, November 17th. Maybe you are wondering where he comes from and how he does it. If not, you should, because this is also quite special. Sint comes by ship from Spain! And he doesn’t come alone, he won’t be the one steering the ship, he has help, a reason for many racial controversies: Zwarte Pieten (meaning Black Petes). Who are white people wearing make up so that they appear to be black. Which, considering Holland’s past, when it was active in trading slaves, is not the best of ideas. It is said that they shouldn’t be seen as black slaves, they are black because of the soot, as Sint and his Petes bring presents down the chimney (as all santas do).

A decorative Pete in a showcase:

The holiday period around Sinterklaas begins about mid November and lasts until December 5th. On the Saturday when the ship arrives from Spain one Dutch town is the  host of the arrival of the original Sint, being also broadcasted live on TV. In many other towns similar arrivals take place, so that as many children as possible witness this event. Little do the children know that the Sint cannot be in so many places. The kids like to dress up as Zwarte Pieten in bright colours and wait impatiently for the Sint to come off his ship and get on his white horse called Amerigo.

The black Petes throw around the traditional sweets for this period, pepernoten and generally fool around. There are different kinds of Petes: Luisterpieten (who listen the whole year through and note how children behave), Inpakpieten (who wrap the presents), Wegwijspieten (navigators, who find the way)…

Sint is welcomed by children singing traditional Sinterklaas songs and there are shows in his honour.

Waiting for Sinterklaas:

A real Piet:

The best part for the children comes now:  from the day that Sint arrives in Holland and until December 5th, the children can place their shoes every evening near a fire place / stove / radiator, which goes hand in hand with singing some songs for the Sint before going to bed. And if Sint or one of the Pieten were listening, the children will find a small present in the shoes the next morning. Well, how about that? Children who every dayfor about 3 weeks expect to find a present… it sure is a lot of fun being a kid this way!

The children also leave a present for Amerigo, a carrot or hay. You tell me how… Sint can resist leaving a gift in the shoe when finding such a thoughtful one in return.

On  December 5th, Sint’s official birthday, the gifts become bigger, many families give up making also Christmas gifts a few weeks later. Especially since there is no Santa Claus for the Dutch children, there is only one santa: Sinterklaas! Who, poor Sinterklaas, celebrates his birthday riding on Amerigo on the roofs to bring gifts for all the children. For the adults, the evening of December 5th is also special, many families prepare “surprises”. Usually, the members of a family who will celebrate together draw lots sometime before the event in order to decide for whom they will make the surprise. The basic idea is creativity. Everyone prepares something, either a funny poem about the person who it is for or a present wrapped in such a way that it is difficult to unwrap or a funny self-made present…

There is also the idea of a birch for bad children, but, unlike in Romania, no Dutch child has ever seen one, it is only a “threat”. Another threat is that bad children will be taken in a bag back to Spain. In Romania there is a similar threat, unrelated to this holiday, that bad children will be taken away in a bag, by a gipsy.

I read on the internet that about 65% of the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas, the holiday being called also “Pakjesavond” (the evening of the presents). In the current form, the holiday is know since 1850, but it exists already for about 700 years.

A decorative Piet:

What do you think about the Dutch Sint?

 
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Posted by on 30 November 2012 in ENGLISH POST

 

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