Category Archives: The Netherlands

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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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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Postcard From Delft, the Netherlands

Delft

After the cramped alleys and the narrow streets the Market Place was in complete contrast – a vast cobbled open space with elegant gabled houses, shops and bars.  The Renaissance town hall with its red shutters at one end and at the other the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) with its almost one hundred and ten metre tall spire (the second largest in the Netherlands after Utrecht) rising majestically into the sky like a needle.

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Entrance Ticket – P&O Cabin Key, Hull to Rotterdam

002 (2)

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.

One of the rules of the crossing is that passengers cannot take alcohol on board the boat – not because P&O have anything against alcohol it is just that they would rather prefer it if you buy it on board at one of their bars rather than from a supermarket in Hull so without any smuggled on beer or wine there wasn’t a great deal to hang around for in the cabin so we made our way to the Sky lounge and the Sunset bar at the very top of the ship to see the sunset that was dipping down over the River Humber to the west.

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European Capital of Culture, 2002 – Bruges

“Everything about it is perfect – its cobbled streets, its placid bottle-green canals, its steep roofed medieval houses, its market square, its slumbering parks, everything.” – Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

We were driving to neighbouring Belgium today to visit the town of Bruges in the north of the country and by the time we had packed the car and set off there were big spots of rain falling on the windscreen.

This didn’t last long and it was one of those days when there were different weather conditions in all directions and it was a bit of a lottery about what we were likely to get.  It was about a hundred kilometres to drive and on the way we passed through a variety of different weather fronts so we were unsure of just what to expect when we arrived.

Northern France Wimereaux

We needn’t have worried because as we parked the car the sun came out and the skies turned a settled shade of blue and without a map we let instinct guide us down sun-dappled mazy cobbled streets towards the city centre.

I had visited Bruges before in 1981 so I thought I knew what I was looking for but over the years I must have got mixed up because the place looked nothing like I remembered it.  I knew that we were looking for a large square and I had in mind something classical like St Marks in Venice so I was surprised when we reached the famous market square to find nothing like that at all.

Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium.  In the middle ages, thanks to the wool trade, it was one of the most important cities in Europe and the historic city centre is an important  UNESCO World Heritage Site because most of its medieval architecture is intact. The Church of Our Lady has a hundred and twenty metre high spire making it one of the world’s highest brick towers.

I Love Bruges Postcard

The sculpture Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be Michelangelo’s only work to have left Italy within his lifetime, it isthe most famous landmark is its thirteenth century belfry and also a pivotal part of the George Clooney film “Monuments Men”.  The church is also home to a municipal carillon comprising forty-eight bells where the city still employs a full-time carillonneur, who gives free concerts on a regular basis.

The city is also famous for its picturesque waterways and along with other canal based northern cities, such as Amsterdam in the Netherlands it is sometimes referred to as “The Venice of the North”;  but this isn’t a title that it holds uniquely because it has also been applied to Saint Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh amongst others.

bruges-crop-xlarge

Bruges is a fine place and we really needed more time to appreciate all of this but the price to be paid for convenient close to the centre parking was that we were restricted to just two hours.  Even though I didn’t remember it quite like this the city square was delightful, fully pedestrianised except for the odd horse and carriage and surrounded by bars and cafés all around the perimeter.  We liked the look of the Bruges Tavern which had tables surrounded by pretty flowers tumbling effervescently from boxes and containers and a vacant table with a good view of the square.

The official language in this part of Belgium is Flemish, which is similar to Dutch and the man who came to take our order identified immediately that we were English and spoke to us in that delightful lilting sing-song voice that Dutch and Belgian people have when they speak English.  He made us feel welcome and we enjoyed a glass of beer sitting in the sunshine.

The girls wanted to shop so whilst they went off in the direction of the main  street we finished our drinks and then took a leisurely walk around the square overlooked by brightly painted houses with Dutch style gables and facades and then disappeared down the warren of quiet side streets that had something interesting to stop for around every corner.

Making our way back to the car we stopped in another, more modern, large square for a second drink where the service was slow and there was an amusing exchange between a flustered waitress and an impatient diner. ‘Alright, alright, the food is coming’the waitress snapped in a reproachful way when she was asked for a third time when it would be served.

Our beer took a long time to come as well but we thought it best not to complain.

As we left Bruges to drive back towards Boulogne the sun disappeared underneath a blanket of cloud and we drove through intermittent showers along a road cluttered with heavy trucks all making their way to and from the Channel ports.  This was not an especially interesting journey through a flat featureless landscape and although we had taken our passports with us there wasn’t even any real indication that we had passed from Belgium back to France except for a small EU sign that could be easily missed.

Past Calais the weather improved and by the time we returned to the gîte the sun was out again but it was still quite windy.  Richard complained about this several times but it was really not so bad and it didn’t stop us sitting in the garden.

Interested in Belgium – take a look at this website – https://discoveringbelgium.com/

European Capital of Culture 1987 – Amsterdam

Volendam postcard

Early next morning I was woken by the rumble of a passing freight train seven floors below which in my half sleep sounded like my next door neighbour putting the wheelie bin at the roadside and for a moment I was transported back home and had forgotten to put the refuse out and in an unnecessary panic this woke me completely.

I lay for a while reflecting on the first day in Amsterdam and planning the second and I began to regret that we hadn’t booked a second night in the city because we didn’t have enough time to do all of the things that we would have liked to.

Amsterdam by Delph

One of these might have been a trip out of the city to see the countryside and I recalled a previous visit to Amsterdam thirty years ago when I had done just that.  As on this occasion that trip was also by ferry crossing but out of Felixstowe rather than Hull 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.

We didn’t go very far into the countryside, just twenty-five kilometres or so to the attractive village of Volendam to the north of the city.  Volendam is a popular tourist attraction in the Netherlands, well-known for its fleet of old fishing boats, pretty gabled wooden houses and the traditional clothing still worn by some of the older residents.

The women’s costume of Volendam, with its high pointed bonnet, is one of the most recognizable of the Dutch traditional costumes, and is the one most often featured on tourist postcards and calendars.  As everywhere else as time passes however fewer and fewer young people continue the custom of wearing traditional clothes and I suspect that this is something that is going to be difficult to keep going for very much longer.

Amsterdam Near Miss

We certainly saw some people in traditional clothing on this visit because they were waiting for us as the coach pulled into the car park of a clog making factory for a demonstration of how they are made.

Wooden shoes have been popular in the Netherlands for about seven hundred years and along with windmills, Edam cheese and tulips provide the perfect tourist images of the country.  The Dutch have been wearing wooden clogs or ‘Klompen’ since medieval times.  Originally, they were made with a wooden sole of alder, willow and poplar and a leather top or strap tacked to the wood but eventually, the shoes began to be made entirely from wood to protect the whole foot.

Painting the shoes is an old custom and carved, painted clogs are traditionally given by grooms to their brides and that’s clever because that’s a lot cheaper than a diamond ring and a lot more practical as well.

I seem to remember now that clogs were quite fashionable for a short time in the 1970s (although many will dispute that there was any fashion in the 1970s) and I had a pair of black open back clogs which my boss told me I couldn’t wear to work and were terribly difficult to drive in so I wasn’t going to be tempted to buy another pair here.

Clogs Amsterdam the Netherlands

Close by to Volendam is the village of Edam, where the cheese comes from and there was an inevitable visit to a dairy to try again to see if we could be parted from some of our spending money.  Edam has never been a favourite of mine but I do remember that we left with a bag of cheesy comestibles with a variety of different additional ingredients including one with herbs and another with black pepper corns.

Twenty years later or so in 2004 I returned to Amsterdam with my son Jonathan on my very first Ryanair flight and on this occasion we visited some museums that we certainly wouldn’t be seeing today because we wouldn’t have time, the weather was too good to go inside and museums are not that popular with everyone in our group.

Henri Wellig Cheese Shop Delft the Netherlands

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 shorter space of time than it took to build it.

Steering the Titanic

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 February 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.

Sunflower Head

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!

While I reminisced about these previous visits the clock ticked on and soon it was time for an Ibis hotel buffet breakfast, which turned out to be very good, to set us up for a second day of sightseeing and walking the canals of Amsterdam.

The Amsterdam, Scheepvaartmuseum or Maritime Museum