Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Christmassy Day out in the Netherlands

As a quick follow up to my last post, and with Christmas just 1 month away...

If you are looking for a Christmassy day out with the kids in the Netherlands, the closest thing I've found to visiting Santa's grotto, is a trip to Intratuin (Garden centre).  They have a really great, big and beautiful Kerstmarkt (Christmas market), with a Christmas village my kids loved!



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Days out with kids in the Netherlands

There are just a few days out in the Netherlands which stick in my mind as really, truly, memorable.  With the kids in tow, you need to find somewhere where there's enough to keep them entertained all day with activities for kids, there's good facilities and catering to keep them fed and clean, and as an adult you're not bored out of your mind.

There are several such places I could list, but just a few which had that little extra touch of magic.  Here's a list of my top five best days out in the Netherlands, with kids.

(Warning: none of these places are cheap and most have a cut off point of 3 years old before they start charging child (or even adult) entry prices!)

TOP 5 PLACES FOR DAYS OUT WITH THE KIDS - NETHERLANDS

1. Dolfinarium - Harderwijk

I had it in my mind that is was a sort of Dolphin rescue centre, something to do with the Dutch sea defences.  I was very wrong. It turns out, that this place is a mini SeaWorld, based around fun and exciting shows, activities, interactions and experiences.  We spent a whole day there this summer, my 3-year old absolutely loved it and as adults we were also glued to the amazing shows starring Dolphins, Sealions, mini-Whale type creatures and pirates! All four adults in our group left the park with reusable coffee mugs (stainless steel mugs with a cartoon dolphin on the side) - fantastic!



A huge expanse of Africa, which can be experienced by car, bus, boat or foot (although we didn't go near the buses as there was always a big queue). This place has all five of the "big five game" and many other exciting animals from around the world.  We started out the day with the car safari, the highlight of which was a Giraffe eating the autumn leaves out of our windscreen gutter.  We then took the river boat, through the centre of the park, along the quite realistic attempt at recreating the Zambezi, and then we walked back through the park to the exit.  It took us around five hours.  While eating our lunch at a large picnic spot, we also had another treat.  One of the lionesses, who had been lying lazily on the other side of a wide moat from where we sat, suddenly smelt the whiff of a small dog, on our side of the moat.  It must have been 20 metres away, but that Lioness would not take her eyes off that little dog for the next 10 minutes.  It was hilarious!


3. Thomas weekend at the railway museum - Utrecht

This weekend event happens only once a year, this year it was in May.  Thomas the tank engine and friends travel all the way over from Sodor to spend the weekend at the Nederlandse Spoorweg Museum (Dutch railway museum) in Utrecht.  Of course Thomas is the star and he makes a grand entrance into the museum every 20 minutes or so, but there's also lots of other fun activities for kids, including face painting, train-based lunch boxes, a miniature train, a giant train play mat and a Thomas shop.  According to the website, the 2014 Thomas weekend is 29th May - 1st June.


4. Speelpark Oude Valkeveen

This is a theme park, with rides, for small children.  It's also a full day out.  It's located on the banks of the Gooimeer and so it has a beach and large playgrounds in the sand.  But it also has lots of other kids activities, such as bumper cars, a beautiful carousel, a mini-rollercoaster (warning: this was too scarey for my 3-year old daughter), an "old-timers" vintage car ride and a huge inflatable climbing wall cum-slide construction.  We had pancakes for lunch, in the pannenkoekenhuis right outside and there's free parking at the entrance (the only one of these 5 'best places' which does have free parking).


5.  Amersfoort Zoo - Amersfoort

I love this place because it's local to us, it's not too big or too small, and it has a miniature train running around and though it, which the kids absolutely love.  We've been a few times, but the all time highlight was 5 minutes watching a baby elephant trying to push over his mother, and failing quite miserably.



These are my top 5 place to visit in the Netherlands with children.  I'd love to hear from other parents on their favourite attractions for kids.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Oh the bells - they give me a headache

It's Sunday morning. Until about an hour ago, I was trying to have a nice, lazy, lie-in. At 09:27 I got out out of bed for two minutes to make a cup of tea (with milk) and open the window to let in some air. That was my mistake - the open window. It was 09:30 when I opened the window, the exact time when, once a week, on Sunday, a prisoner escapes from the county jail. Or at least, that's what it sounds like to me.

This blog post, and I'm sorry it's a long time coming, is about the difference between Dutch and English church bells.

First, I'll start with a review of English church bells. I'm not anywhere near an expert in English church bells, infact I know almost nothing about them. But, at least, if I start by introducing you to the English bells, you'll be in the same place as me when I hit you with the Dutch ones.

So, here's the English church bells I was used to back home:



Important things to note:

  1. More than one bell is ringing, therefore, more than one note being played.
  2. People are enjoying themselves - actually bell ringing is a team activity, a fun team activity
  3. The bells sound pretty.
Okay, you get the idea I hope. Now imagine that's the sound of church bells you've grown up with, you're used to and then...

...imagine it's Sunday morning in Holland, the window is ajar and you're trying to relax in bed.....:




I don't know about you, but here are some thoughts that run through my mind:
  1. Has a prisoner escaped? Are there snipers preparing to shoot from the tower?
  2. Should I get quickly dressed up in my Sunday best and leave for church now? Any second, some deathly-ghost may knock on my door rounding up the congregration. They know I'm not there, but sinning by enjoying my Sunday?
  3. Has this got anything to do with those monthly sirens (see blog post: "Testing times")? Have all those tests counted for nothing, and now, when we need them most because the sea-level is rising, or mexican flu is taking the Netherlands, the Government is resorting to medieval signaling instead?

You get the idea.

Anyway, my Sunday morning lie-in is ruined once again. I'm now not dozing off with my cup of tea (with milk) by my side, but wide-awake and writing my first blog post for more than a year. So, perhaps, the bells have gone against themselves? Most likely, they were trying to entice me to Sunday service this morning followed by a day of rest. I was resting, but now I'm sinning by "working" on my laptop on the Sabbath.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Dutch advertisements

It's a terrible thing to admit, but one thing I miss about the UK is the consistently high quality of product advertisements. I noticed it again this weekend while listening to Dutch radio. Every other radio advertisement I heard was based on a cringe-worthy rhyme around "punt NL" (the Dutch version of .co.uk / .com), for example:

Kopen makkelijk en snel
op wehkamp.nl

Boek flieggen snel
op fliegticket.nl

Obviously Dutch Radio advertising is suffering from a total lack of creativity.

The same goes for Dutch TV ads. I saw a news item on the BBC UK news this week about a Ryanair campaign which played on the sexual allure of women dressed in school girls uniforms. There had been numerous complaints to the UK Advertising Board and calls for the ad to be banned. This was one bad advert and the industry jumped on it to wipe it out! Well I can tell you that every tenth TV / poster advert in the Netherlands is based on female nudity. One TV station's buffer ads (their own intro slots/5 second slots before/after breaks for adverts) are nothing more than women strutting about in bikinis. For me, it's the worse form of advertising.

The only advert that has ever caught my attention as a high-quality Dutch advert was in the Heineken "Biertje?" series. (Biertje? is the Dutch way of offering a friend a beer). I think this was designed for use in NL, but may well have had a worldwide audience.

Here it is:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neoUi4poCXI

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Dutch cooking today - A nice Dutch recipe book

Over the Holiday season I found a really nice book: Dutch cooking today.

Written in English, this book includes many great colour photos and a lot of the old favourite Dutch recipes, including:

  • Dutch apple pie
  • Speculaas cookies
  • Hutspots
  • Uitsmijter
  • Dutch pea soup
I think this recipe book was written for two types of readers:
  1. Expats living in the Netherlands, who want to learn how to cook some traditional Dutch recipes while they live here and want to find things to do with the limited range of food available in supermarkets.
  2. Someone considering moving to the Netherlands who wants to know what "traditional Dutch food" really is.

I can't find the book on Amazon, but here's a comparison page for other online book stores:

http://boeken.beslist.nl/boeken/d0000476667/Dutch_cooking_today.html

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Dutch assessment turns into an assessment of the Dutch

The Dutch course is over now, and I'm please to say I passed. I'm afraid to say however that this blog post is mainly going to be a moan about the way the school grades exam results.

The UvA grades Dutch language course exam results on the following scale:

  • good
  • satisfactory
  • weak
  • very poor
This seems very strange to me. All the grades are on the bad side of good, there's no "excellent" grade achievable, the best you can achieve regardless of your performance is "good". Personally I'd rather ditch this assessment scheme and use numbers instead, at least you know where you are with numbers. These terms are so open to interpretation and cultural differences. One American peer of mine at school really found the lack of an "excellent" mark unbelievable, and I am always very disappointed to get a "satisfactory" grade. Satisfactory for me is "only just enough to pass, but a close call", but this is the second best mark you can get at UvA.

After 72 hours of Dutch practice in only 6 weeks, this scheme seems a little unfair but this scoring scheme turns out to be typically Dutch.

To be "excellent" in the Netherlands is to be "uitstekend", literally translated into "sticking out", or in other words "freakish". To be different from everyone else, surprisingly, is frowned upon here. I'm amazed by the contradiction in Dutch society which is supposedly one of the most liberal and open-minded in the world, but yet hates to see people achieving above the norm. Doing just enough to pass has become the accepted way to be in the Netherlands. And I worry for the nation I really do. Don't they realise that the rest of the world, especially the developing world, is trying very hard to be outstanding (a.k.a competitive). I can see the Netherlands slipping down a well greased slope unless they pull their socks up, try harder and forget their inhibitions about being uitstekend.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Learning Dutch

I’ve been learning Dutch (properly putting in big effort) for nearly a year now. But it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I’ve mainly been learning at the INTT at the University of Amsterdam, which I highly recommend. They have really good courses, but they are really very intense. The evening courses consist of 3 hours of classes, two nights a week (Monday and Thursday) and then at least 6 hours homework every week for six weeks. I’ve just entered the next level, I started an Intermediate course on Monday, and I’m already exhausted. Last night I was doing homework until 9:30pm about the exciting and upbeat subject of uitvaart / begraven (basically funerals, cremation and death).

I much prefer to learn Dutch in upbeat fun ways, my teacher that gave me private lessons over the summer managed to do this by helping me to learn by listening to good Dutch music (yes, I too was amazed that it actually exists, but my teacher have managed to find some nice tunes). My favourites so far are:

Acda & de munnik - Groeten uit maaiveld
Wim Sonneveld - Aan De Amsterdamse Grachten

The book that we used this summer, and in the classes at the INTT in general is also really good, but it’s also incredibly expensive at about 70 Euros. It’s called CODE. For the absolute beginner and beginner courses we used CODE 1, for pre-intermediate course and the course I’m on now, Intermediate, we are using CODE 2. It’s a good book because it covers some many different subject areas and it comes with a CD-ROM which is really interactive. It has, per chapter, at least two videos or sound tracks, which help me to listen and understand different Dutch voices. The only area I think the book lacks in sophistication is its explanation of Dutch grammar, which is very complex compared to English.

For instance, here’s a crazy grammatical rule if ever I heard one….there are two words for “because” in Dutch, these are “want” and “omdat”. Your selection of one of these two words has a huge impact on the sentence structure and the position of the words in the sentence. Here’s an example:

Ik neem paracetamol, want ik heb hoofdpijn
I take paracetamol, because I have a headache

Ik neem paracetamol, omdat ik hoofdpijn heb
I take paracetamol, because I a headache have.

No-one, Dutch or otherwise, can explain why this is so or why if you use the two words incorrectly you are speaking complete gobble-de-gook. It’s just the way it is. And there are about 7 different words (that I have learnt so far) that have this effect.

One really nice thing about learning Dutch, however, is the simplicity of some of the words. If you have a basic vocabulary, like me, you can often guess at the meaning of other words, for example:

If you know the word god = god, and dienst= service, then you can guest godsdienst = religion
If you know the word ver = far, and kijk = look, then you can guess that verrekijkers = binoculars (far lookers!!)

Anyway, all the effort I’m making is helping with life here in general. I can mostly understand the announcements at train platforms (even if they are lacking any useful information on why the trains are delayed) and the news headlines are not as totally baffling as they once were. But still, I have a long, long way to go and it’s still exhausting trying to learn.