Category Archives: Holland

A to Z of Balconies – Delft in The Netherlands

In December 2012 I took the Hull to Rotterdam ferry with my son and visited the charming town of Delft.

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Amsterdam Reflections


On This Day – Amsterdam and The Red Light District

Life is becoming rather like that film ‘Groundhog Day’ as I continue to search through the archives.

On 16th March I was in Amsterdam in the Netherlands…

The Amsterdam Red Light District covers a large area of the oldest part of the city.

The buildings are tall, narrow and crowded together with a distinctive glow of fluorescent red lights above the red-fringed window parlours from behind which the scantily clad ladies of the night invite customers with a rattle on the glass and a come to me pout and provocative pose.

All rather like I imagine Satan’s front room to look like!

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National Potato Chips Day in the U.S.A.

March 14th is National Potato Chips Day in the U.S.A. and although mine is not a food blog I am happy to recycle my post about potato chips…

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Some of you will have read it before of course.

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The Origin of Chips

In 2013 I had a short holiday in Northern France. On the way back home  to the UK we stopped at the town of Wissant for lunch at a friterie.

Friteries are a feature of Northern France and are a simple place to buy French fries accompanied by a selection of sauces and accompaniments. The thin strips of potato are fried twice, first to drive out the moisture and second to achieve the essential golden crispness of the French Fry and the friterie we chose was full to overflowing with customers lining up for their favourite combination.

I was interested to discover that there is controversy about the humble French Fry, frite or chip and there are conflicting claims to how it came to enter the culinary traditions of so many countries.

It is served everywhere in northern France but it is the Belgians who claim that they invented it and there is a rather unlikely tale attached to the claim.

The story goes that the local people rather liked eating small deep fried fishes but in the Winter when the rivers were frozen and fishing became hazardous they cut potatoes in the form of small fish and put them in a fryer instead.

Seems unlikely to me.  I can’t believe that this was going to fool anyone but then again take a look in a supermarket freezer section today and potatoes are cut into all sorts of different shapes to amuse the kids.

In Spain they say that this is nonsense and the potato wasn’t even grown in (what is now) Belgium at that time and some claim that dish may have been invented there, which might make sense because this was the first European country in which the potato appeared via the New World colonies.

It goes on to back up this claim with the assertion that ‘patatas fritas’ were an original accompaniment to fish dishes in Galicia from which it spread to the rest of the country and then to the Spanish Netherlands, part of which only became, what we now call, Belgium more than a century later.

France actually took some time to accept the potato, I expect they thought that it was a bit common and it wasn’t until a famine of 1795 that they began to eat them with any sort of enthusiasm.

They proved so popular that after that potatoes were being grown on a very large scale in France, including at the royal gardens at the Tuileries Palace and within that short time, the French either came up with the concept or alternatively simply learned to make fries. Once discovered they became extremely popular in revolutionary France, particularly in Paris, where they were sold by push-cart vendors on the streets and called ‘frites’.

Belgium however still stubbornly hangs on to its claim and dismisses the assertion of the French themselves by arguing that the description ‘French Fries’ originated due to a simple  linguistic misunderstanding.  In old English ‘to French’ meant ‘cut into sticks’ and US soldiers in the Second-World-War called them French Fries on account of the fact that the official language of Belgium at the time was French.

While researching this I half expected to find a German claim with the fried potato strips no doubt invented by someone called Fritz. As it turns out the Germans make no such claim but there is a story that potatoes were first introduced to Germany by Frederick the Great. King of Prussia from 1740 to 1772, he is still referred to as “Alte Fritz” (Old Fritz) to this day.

Maybe however as we line up to claim the chip we are missing something here. The potato was first cultivated by the Incas in Peru so maybe they have a claim and there is in fact a restaurant in Lima called “The Original Fries“.

I am not sure about that sickly looking accompaniment however…

Of course we don’t care what the Belgians, the French or the Spanish think because we are completely certain that they are an English invention and that we make a better job of cooking them than anyone else anyway.

Traditionally, chips in the United Kingdom are cut much thicker and since the surface-to-volume ratio is lower, they have a lower fat content. According to legend, the first chips fried in the UK were on the site of Oldham’s Tommyfield Market in 1860.

On This Day – Amsterdam in The Netherlands

I continue to raid the archives for pictures and past travel stories. On 22nd January 2004 in the early days of low cost flying I was in a bitterly cold Amsterdam…

My first visit to Amsterdam was in 1980 and it was on an organised coach tour paid for by exchanging Persil washing powder vouchers and I can only imagine now that I must have done an awful lot of washing to get enough vouchers for two people to go to Amsterdam for a weekend.

This was my first time back to The Netherlands this time with my son Jonathan on my very first Ryanair flight and on this occasion the city was in the grip of a Winter squeeze. We walked the canals of course but it was so cold that we did most of our sightseeing indoors in the city museums.

The first of these was the Scheepvaartmuseum or Maritime Museum which was a short walk from our hotel, the Amsterdam, on Damrak and told the story of the Dutch association with the sea through an interesting collection of maps, atlases, charts, paintings and scale models but best of all a full sized replica of the three masted ‘Amsterdam’, a ship of the Dutch East India Company, which in its maiden voyage sank in a storm in the English Channel in winter of 1749.

To sink on a maiden voyage always seems rather wasteful and sad to me, ships like Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, the German battleship Bismarck and most famous of all the passenger liner RMS Titanic; all that money, blood and sweat just for the ship to go to the bottom of the sea in a much shorter space of time than it took to build it.

Admission to the museum included entry to the ship and we wandered around the decks and cabins completely alone because this was an early morning in January and the temperature was some considerable way below zero.

In the old town we warmed up when we visited the Rembrandt house museum and visited the reconstructed rooms and historically correct restoration based on the artists own sketches and drawings. In the afternoon we walked to the Van Gogh museum which is the most visited museum in the Netherlands and contains the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh in the World.

Together with those of Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings ever sold and some of the most valuable ever. Actually, I found the museum rather disappointing because there were lots of gaps where paintings were on loan to other galleries around the World and some of his best known works that I would like to have seen are tucked away in private collections and vaults.

I like Van Gogh paintings and the museum shop was full of prints and reproductions but I am not an art critic and have to confess that alongside those I find brilliant I find some that quite frankly are not so good (shock, horror). The sort of things that my children used to bring home from school, I’d say well done and give them words of patronising encouragement and then after they had gone to bed I’d tape it up inside a kitchen cupboard!

On This Day – Holland or the Netherlands

I slept well for most of the crossing but woke early with a digestive system groaning under the weight of the unexpected quantity of food that I had forced into it at the eat all you can buffet and then at six o’clock there was a collective early morning alarm call over the ship’s public address system that announced that the ferry would dock in two hours time.

The ship was approaching Europoort which is an area of the Port of Rotterdam, the second largest city in the country, conveniently situated at the mouth of the rivers Rhine and Meuse and a network of delta channels.

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On This Day – A Mini Cruise to Rotterdam

In December 2012 my son, Jonathan, was due to come and stay with me for a few days and with the weather too bad for golf and with no imminent prospect of improvement I needed alternative plans, other than dynamite, that would get him out of bed by mid-afternoon.

Normally I take a low cost airline flight to a chosen destination but with a bargain price of £23 each for a return ferry crossing from Hull to Rotterdam this was too good an opportunity to miss so 4th December we boarded the Pride of Rotterdam ferry at the Hull docks.

Once on board we wandered around the maze of narrow corridors on deck ten searching among five hundred and forty-six identical looking cabins until we finally found our inner berth shoebox and after we had negotiated sleeping arrangements in a fair and democratic way I bagged the bottom bunk and let Jonathan practice using the flimsy aluminium ladder to get on top.

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A Cycle Ride Along The Sea Wall

Cycling Kim 001

I don’t always feel terribly safe when riding my bike so I don’t do as much cycling as I could but Kim has bought herself a new one so I have had to get mine out from the back of the shed.

Kim has a modern lightweight model with eighteen slick gears and modern features, mine is a twenty-five year old Raleigh with a heavy steel frame and a saddle made out of concrete.  Raleigh bikes were made in Nottingham but you can’t get them anymore, faces with fierce competition from China they ceased production in 2003.

I’d buy a new one to replace it but it still goes nicely and I don’t want a Chinese bike so I’ll wait.  It doesn’t really matter that it is heavy and doesn’t have as many gears because Lincolnshire is mostly flat so cycling doesn’t require a great deal of effort.

Today we avoided the roads that frighten me and used the dedicated cycle paths and pedalled our way to the sea wall about three miles north of where we live.

The sea wall is a stout defensive concrete structure designed to protect the land from potential storm surges and flooding.  It runs for several miles alongside the south side of the Humber Estuary and looks as sturdy and grand as any medieval city fortification.  Rather confusingly it is called the North Bank because it represents the northern boundary of Lincolnshire.  On the north side, in Yorkshire they most likely call it the south bank but I don’t know that for sure.

Humber Sea Wall

It was constructed as part of a programme of improved sea defences following the major 1953 North Sea flood that occurred on the night of Saturday 31st January. The deadly floods struck the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

A combination of a high spring tide and a severe European windstorm over the North Sea caused a storm tide and the combination of wind, high tide, and low pressure led to a water level of up to twenty feet above normal sea levels and waves overwhelmed sea defences and caused extensive flooding.  In the United Kingdom over three hundred people were killed, farms and properties were destroyed and thousands of animals were drowned.

There were no weather problems today and as we cycled east from Immingham towards Grimsby the water to our left was flat calm and the industrial areas to the north were basking in Spring sunshine.  Tug boats and cargo ships passed by on the estuary.  Absence of rain for almost two months meant the pumping stations that drain the land were idle.

Humber 01

Pumping stations are important in this part of the country where the land is mostly at or barely just above the level of the sea. The roads and lanes have giveaway names like South Marsh Road, North Marsh Road and so on. In the hierarchy of water management, the Environment Agency is responsible for main rivers like the Humber but within their districts organisations called Internal Drainage Boards are responsible for major drainage channels to manage water levels for land management, flood risk, irrigation and environmental protection.

The pumping stations were quiet but the country still needs electricity so the energy plant was humming away and people are still disposing of rubbish so the Council incinerator was clattering flat out. This is probably the place to say that this is not an especially attractive stretch of coastline, mud not sand on one side of the wall and ugly concrete industry on the other.

As we cycled closer to the port of Grimsby we could see in more detail the Dock Tower.  This was a water tower built in 1852 to provide hydraulic lifting power to operate the giant lock gates of the dock. It was designed by a man called James William Wild who had visited Siena in Italy and had so admired the place that he based his design for the Grimsby Dock Tower on the Torre del Mangia tower on the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena city centre.

Cycling Kim 002

At three hundred and thirty feet it is the highest building in Lincolnshire, fifty feet higher than either the Boston Stump or Lincoln Cathedral. If it were in Bristol or Newcastle or Manchester then it would be a major tourist attraction but it is in Grimsby and hardly any one visits Grimsby so not many people have seen it.

It isn’t possible to get to the Dock Tower from the west because of the high levels of security at the Docks so we were obliged to turn around and cycle back the way that we had come.  By the time we got back home we had cycled about twelve miles or so.  Kim had a shower. I cracked a can of lager.

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The Story of an Aussie in The English Fens (Part Four)

The Fens Map

From the village of Donington and the birthplace of Matthew Flinders we travelled east towards the coast and the North Sea.

This area was once marsh and fen but has been successfully reclaimed from the water to turn it into a highly productive arable farming industry.  Driving on the roads takes great care and undivided attention because it isn’t so difficult to slip off the tarmac and into one of the roadside drainage ditches.  People who move to the area to live are only ever really accepted into the community after they have paid a visit to the bottom of a ditch and become a member of The Fens ‘Dyke Club’.

South Holland Dyke

This was an area of wetland for two reasons, first it is barely at sea level and high tides would swamp the land and secondly because four major rivers flow into The Wash, The Witham, The Welland, The Nene and the Great Ouse, all of which drain the English Midlands into the sea.  At times when there was too much water there was inevitable flooding.  The East Coast Fens are simply former marshland.  This was a place where you almost always needed to wear wellington boots.

The Romans came to The Fens and built the first sea defence wall about ten miles inland and which stretched for thirty miles or so.  It is still called the Roman Bank.  Beyond the Bank they maintained salt pans.

For several hundred years a battle was fought to reclaim land from the sea and the prize was access to very valuable fertile farming land.  Several walls and enclosures were built in the late nineteenth century and many thousands of acres reclaimed for farming.  During the Second World-War Britain was short of food so more farming land was required so at about this time the final and present sea wall was built to provide even more arable farming land to feed the nation.  It is doubtful that they will ever build another one because with modern methods of farming there is enough land now for the time being.

After leaving the A17 and driving north there are miles and miles of absolutely bugger all.  A couple of small villages, some isolated farm workers cottages and modern industrial scale farms where there is rarely any sign of life.  It is a ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ sort of place where local people look at strangers with suspicion and wonder if they are not driving a mud caked Land Rover or a Massey Ferguson Tractor pulling a plough just what they are doing there.

This is a remote place without visitors.  There are no tourist signposts and I wasn’t sure after ten years away  if I could confidently remember exactly how to reach the place that I was trying to get to.  With the help of the SatNav (working again now) a huge slice of luck and a fading memory I found the road/track that leads to the sea wall and we made it to our destination.  A narrow pot-holed track and not the sort of lane that you want to meet mud caked Land Rover or a Massey Ferguson Tractor pulling a plough coming in the opposite direction!

The orange arrow indicates approximately where we were…

Lincolnshire Sea Wall

… just farm fields at the edge of the World before the marshes and as close to the sea as you can get without wellington boots.

This part of Lincolnshire can be inhospitable and bleak but on a blue sky day like today it is absolutely magnificent.  We parked the car and climbed to the top of the wall, not a brick or concrete structure but a stout earth wall decorated with concrete Second-World-War defence bunkers.  To the north-east we looked out over the marshes and the North Sea and behind us we stared out over acres and acres of patchwork farm land just waiting to leap into Spring.

John and I walked along the wall and swapped tales and stories from our lives separated by fifteen thousand miles or so geographically but what seemed to me now only as thin as a cigarette paper.

It occurred to me that John lives so far away in Australia and a thousand years or so ago someone may have stood in this exact place (in his wellington boots of course) and thought that it must surely be the edge of the World. Travel and friendship is so important in personal development and exploration and education.

On the way back we drove through the village of Moulton which has the tallest windmill in England (this part of Lincolnshire is full of surprises) and then to Cowbit, John thought it was a strange name and I told him that it is not pronounced how it looks on the sign but as ‘Cubit’.  Friendly sparring now, John told me that Melbourne is not pronounced in the same plummy way as Lord Melbourne but as ‘Melbun’.

It had been a very enjoyable and satisfying day.

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Almost forgot to mention that this is where I lived in The Fens for ten years, 2000-2010…

Pipwell Gate

Kim joined us and we spent a convivial time in the bar, drank more than we planned to and had an enjoyable evening meal.  I saw John again in the morning as he prepared to return home to Melbun in Australia…

South Holland Sea Wall

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