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Monday, July 1, 2013

We have a winner!!

Congratulations to Julie McAninch, the winner of the very first Clogs and Tulips giveaway
What did she win? As promised, Julie will get two free tickets to the Amsterdam Dungeon!
If your name is Julie McAninch, please send me an email with your mailing address to to claim your prize :)
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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Giveaway at Clogs and Tulips – Two Tickets to the Amsterdam Dungeon

I am very excited to announce the first ever giveaway here on Clogs and Tulips: An American in Holland!

The folks over at Amsterdam Dungeon have generously donated two tickets to their attraction.

What is the Amsterdam Dungeon?

A fun-filled 500-year Amsterdam history lesson + a two-minute indoor roller coaster ride + cool special effects + eleven live theater shows + the opportunity to be a part of the action.

What’s not to love?

AND you’ll get it all for free!

But…. I’ve only got two tickets to give away. So I’m gonna make you work for ‘em.

Here’s how it works:

  • The contest will run the entire month of June
  • You’ll be able to earn points the entire month (more on that below)
  • I will select one winner and announce them on the blog on July 2nd

Now how can you earn those points?

You get…

1 point for every comment you leave on past posts on this blog between now and June 30th.

3 points when you Tweet the link to this post using the hashtag #americancloggie (maximum of ONE tweet per day and the hashtag MUST be used for it to count)

5 points for Like-ing the Clogs and Tulips: An American in Holland Facebook page***
***The C&T Facebook page has been taken down. For the same great info, head here.

10 points for every comment left on any new posts to this blog

The reader with the most points as of June 30th at 12pm Eastern Standard Time (that’s 6pm Amsterdam time) will be declared the winner.

Check out the Amsterdam Dungeon's official website for more information.

Best of luck to everyone and I look forward to seeing you around on the Interwebs!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bringing up bilingual baby: when one language is stronger than the other

Kleine Munchkin passed the one-year marker last month (it's amazing how the time flies!), and she's hitting all those milestones that come with it. She started walking in November, she recognizes people and objects, she's more independent than ever, and, yes, she's started talking.

So far - in addition to baby babbling - we've got Mommom, Papa, MoMo (aka Elmo), and caaaaaaa (cat). To clarify, that last one is cat, spoken with that nasal, flat, piercing 'a' we Americans are so (in)famous for.

She sees the four-legged, whiskered animal outside and we hear "caaaaaaaa!" She spies one on TV and we hear "caaaaaaa!" She points to pictures of them in her books and gleefully shouts "caaaaaaa!" Ask her where the kat is, however, and she looks at you like you have three heads.

Houston, we have a problem.

The goal is to raise her to be bilingual: Dutch and English. We're using the one parent, one language module in which one parent speaks one language with the child while the other speaks the second language with the child. In my dream world, she'll be native in both.

But now she's indicating that she understands English but is still extremely fuzzy on the Dutch.

If you leave the room and close the door behind you, she'll bang on the door until you come back. To make sure I don't slam the door open in her face, I started asking "may I come in?" before very slowly and very carefully opening the door. After a few times, "may I come in" became her cue that whoever had gone out was coming back, and she'd scoot out of the way.

The first time my husband saw it, he thought it such a novelty. "Hey, it really works," he said with amusement. So the next time he left the room and she stood outside the door waiting for him, he gave it a try.

"Mag ik binnenkomen?" he asked.

No response

"Kleine Munchkin, mag ik binnenkomen?" he tried again.


He sighed. "May I come in?"

And Kleine Muchkin squealed in delighted anticipation and scooted away from the door.

It makes sense. I work from home, so I'm home with her all the time. I'm constantly talking to her, asking her things, reading to her, singing to her. My husband does all these things too. But he works 40+ hours a week, sometimes coming home late because of office events and networking activities. And then there's the occasional overnight business trip. Because of his work schedule, he's rarely able to join us when we head to the US for a week or two.

We have the exact opposite issue that so many Dutch/expat couples I know do. Usually, because of daycare, time with the Dutch-speaking parent, frequent visits from the Dutch grandparents, and more exposure to Dutch in general, the children speak Dutch flawlessly, but struggle a bit with English.

But because she doesn't see her Dutch grandparents as often, because she spends most of her time with native English speakers, and because her Papa can't be home with her as much, English is definitely her stronger language.

So I've taken it upon myself to give her the Dutch language exposure she needs. Here's what's been working as well as some ideas I got recently from the InCultureParent article 29 Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids.

Making the most out of my husband's time with her - When he comes home, he becomes the main parent. He feeds her, bathes her, gets her in her pajamas, reads to her, helps her brush her "teeth," gives her her last bottle, and puts her to bed. He also takes her one day during the weekend and they do things just the two of them. Not only does this help with her Dutch, it also gives them some great Papa/dochterje bonding time.

Watching Dutch television - I'm not a fan of the TV, but there are some fabulous educational programs out there for kids. To discourage endless, mindless TV watching, I buy those shows on DVD and we watch one episode each day. But I make sure it's a Dutch language show. My favorite: Dora the Explorer. It's interactive, making it great for kids. As a former teacher, I find lots of educational value in it that I see lacking in so many other television shows broadcast here in the Netherlands. Plus, in the Netherlands, Dora speaks Dutch and English, so she gets input from both languages, with an emphasis on Dutch.

Encouraging more Oma and Opa time - My husband's parents are older and live about 40 minutes away (which is really far by Dutch standards), so they don't see her much. By comparison, we Skype with my parents a few times a week and see them almost every month. Not only does this help strengthen her English, but she also has a closer relationship to my parents. So I'm trying to take her to Oma and Opa's more often and encourage them to come visit her more frequently. I've also introduced them to Skype, which they're starting to get the hang of. This helps with her Dutch but also strengthens her relationship with her Dutch grandparents.

Listening to music - Think about how you learned your native language. You learned all the kid songs and nursery rhymes. Music makes things catchier and easier to memorize. It sticks better and you're likely to find yourself singing the songs without even realizing it. That's why teaching those songs at home and at school is so important. I was singing the ABC by the time I was 18 months old. Music also helped me learn Dutch. I don't feel that it's right for me to be singing those songs to her because I'm her English source and may teach her the wrong pronunciations, but I can play the music for her. Whether it's Jan Smit, Trijntje Oosterhuis, or a kinderleidjes CD, I always have Dutch language music playing in the background for her.

Taking classes - Every Monday, Kleine Munchkin and I go to swimming class at the local pool and on Saturdays my husband takes her to classes at the Little Gym. Not only are those kinds of things great for motor skill development and social interaction, but she also gets further Dutch exposure. So, even though I take her to swimming, she hears instructions from the juff in Dutch. Bonus: we both learn something new each week.

Hiring Dutch childcare - Yes, I work from home, but anyone with children knows that you don't get anything done with kids around. To ensure that I'm able to complete my work and meet my deadlines, I've hired Dutch-speaking babysitters. One comes for three hours on Mondays and Thursdays, and the other one's here for four hours on Tuesdays. The girls only speak Dutch with Kleine Munchkin and it's great for her to be exposed to other people.

Broadcasting the Papa Show - This one I haven't tried yet, but Hubby and I are going to work on it tonight once Kleine Munchkin's in bed. What you do is video the minority language parent reading, telling stories, singing and talking. Then, when that parent's not around, you show the video. Kleine Munchin will see and hear her Papa in what is now her minority language. This is particularly great during business trips or for when Hubby will be getting home after Kleine Munchin's already gone to bed, so that she'll still be able to see and "spend time with" her Papa.

Breakin' out the electronic toys  - We have oh so many of these. Toys that sing and talk and play music. We have them in Dutch, and we have them in English. But recently I noticed that all her Dutch language toys are up in her bedroom and her English language toys are downstairs in the living room, where she spends most of her time. There's a reason for this. As new toys come in, my husband moves the old ones up to her bedroom. Whereas the gifts she gets from friends and family in the US are mostly electronic, the ones from Dutch friends and family are mostly wooden. So in the living room right now, we have all American electronic toys and Dutch wooden toys, with very few exceptions. Recently, I took most of her English speaking toys up to her room and replaced them with the Dutch speaking ones. Now at least when she presses those tempting, noise-inducing buttons, she hears more Dutch.

Getting out and about - Another simple way to expose her to Dutch is taking her out. To the playground, to the drugstore, on a grocery run, out for a coffee/apple juice. I may not be speaking Dutch, but the other people around us will be.

I realize she'll probably never be equally strong in both languages, but there is a real need in our situation to level the playing field at this juncture. Luckily, being the English-language parent doesn't mean I can't do little things to expose her to the other language we want her to learn.

What are some other things parents can do or that you do yourself to show some more love to that minority language?

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What I think about Zwarte Piet

Ordinarily, I try to stay as far away from the Great Zwarte Piet Debate as possible. I figure if I keep my nose out of it and others follow suit, it'll eventually disappear.

How naive is that?!?

The debate - nay, argument - only seems to gain momentum and get blown to more gargantuan proportions with each passing year.

So, why not slip my own opinions into the mix?

Readers, beware: this is gonna be a long one...

Yes, the first time I saw Zwarte Piet, the shock was so great, you could've knocked me over with a feather. Not because I found it racist, but because I come from a country where blackface is not just a taboo, it's illegal. Seeing dozens upon dozens of white people running around covered in black make-up with curly black wigs and big red lips, I felt like Alice must have when she first stepped through the looking glass.

But once I got over the "Oh no, they didn't!" factor, I ceased to notice it.

I admit it, I'm part of the What's-Wrong-with-Zwarte-Piet? camp. I don't see anything racist in it because I don't believe it's intended to be racist.

From what I've seen, the vast majority of anti-Zwarte Piet-ers are visitors, expats, immigrants, and internationals who come to the Netherlands and try to impose the cultural norms, expectations, taboos, etc of their home country on this, their host country. There are, of course, Dutch nationals who disagree with the color of Sinterklaas' little helper, but there doesn't seem to be nearly as many and they're certainly not as loud as their non-Dutch compatriots.

Perhaps I'm missing the point, but to me, when you choose to live in another country (and, no matter what brought you to the Netherlands in the first place, it was your choice to come and your choice to stay), it's like choosing to go to someone's house. You respect their rules and you respect their home. You respect the way they live.

It doesn't mean you have to be a mindless drone or that you have to conform completely and forget where you came from, but you do need to affect a bit of a when-in-Rome attitude. If they take their shoes off and leave them at the front door, you should do the same. If they don't put their feet on the sofa or up on the coffee table, why on earth would you? You don't go into someone's house and move their television from the living room to the kitchen because that's how you prefer yours to be at home. You don't go rearranging furniture because you're uncomfortable with the way things are set up, and you don't go taking down their hanging pictures and wall art because you find them offensive.

So why would you move to someone else's country and expect them to change their long-held traditions and beliefs because you were brought up to find them offensive?

The Dutch have been doing this Zwarte Piet thing for a helluva long time. To expect them to change their tradition because you and a bunch of other immigrants now living in their country think they should is naive and unrealistic. And, dare I say it, rude.

Take a look at these Dutchies in New York. They want to hold on to their tradition of Sinterklaas, but they now live in a country where blackface is illegal. Instead of starting petitions and holding demonstrations to get the US to change their attitude and let them have their Zwarte Piet, they've come to terms with the fact that they need to adapt to their new surroundings and change their ways a bit to what is acceptable in their new country.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's not wrong to be offended and you can't change the way you feel. But, are there perhaps ways you can ignore, come to terms with, or overlook it? Leave the country for Sinterklaas? Take sick leave the day of the office Sinterklaas party? Not go into town on the day of the intocht? Avoid the places where you know the Sint is going to be hanging out? Learn to turn a blind eye to it? Pull your child out of school the day Sinterklaas pays the class a visit or tell the teacher you would rather your child have an alternative to craft projects and other assignments involving Piet? Just put a bit of black make-up on your child's cheeks so it looks more like soot than blackface? Or be progressive and paint their faces in rainbow colors like what's now being done in Curacau? Maybe consider leaving the Netherlands altogether if that's possible?

I know it's easier said than done, but it seems a lot more effective than trying to get the Dutch to change their tradition. Especially one they seem so hell-bent on hanging onto.

But, back to why it's so important not to project the cultural norms of your own country on your host country.

As an American, I come from a country where it is politically incorrect to call a black person a black person. They're African American. Even though the majority of them were born and bred in America and not Africa. Even though a ridiculously small percentage of them have even set foot in Africa. Even though they have nothing in common with Africans besides skin color. And that's not always a guaranteed commonality either.

A deeper look at our history though, and it's not hard to see why this is still such a sensitive issue. Slavery wasn't officially ended until December of 1865. Not that long ago in the greater scheme of things. And the civil rights movement lasted until the late 1960s. That's not even 50 years ago. Even today, there are active KKK groups in the United States.

When I competed in the Miss America pageant system, my platform was "Can You DIG It: Diversity IS Great." My friends are gay, handicapped, learning disabled, of various backgrounds, religions, and colors. It disturbed me to no end that there were groups of people in the world who did not accept my friends because of their color/religion/upbringing/disabilities/sexual orientation. So, my goal with my platform was to teach children at an early age that being different is good.

In 2003, I competed for the title of Miss Washington, DC. A reporter from The Washington City Paper attended to do a write-up of the pageant. My platform stuck out so much in his mind that he included me in his article. Just not the way I'd hoped. Here's what he had to say [NB: back then, I was Tiffany Jarman]:

"The last contestant left on stage is Tiffany Jarman, 19, a blond woman with big bangs and a big smile... Jarman introduces herself and then, with spirited self-righteousness, tells the audience about her platform--teaching diversity and acceptance. 
This messenger of diversity hails from Knoxville, Md., a small town of about 4,000 just across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry, W.Va. According to 2000 census figures, Knoxville is approximately 94 percent white. 
Diversity is great," Jarman announces. "Can you dig it?"

Most of the audience succeeds in choking back laughter. Even so, a chorus of snickers ripples through the auditorium."

Apparently I come from a country where it is even offensive to the non-white community when a white woman lobbies in their favor (interesting to note: the reporter is a white male).

The closest thing Americans have to Zwarte Piet is minstrelsy, the art form where white (and even black!) people put on blackface and portrayed black people as dim-witted caricatures. We can't see the fun-loving, candy-throwing, gift-bestowing, good-hearted Piet without giving him the "Mammy! How I loves ya, Mammy" subtitling.

The Dutch, however, come from a completely different perspective. Yes, they did engage in slave trade, but they never owned any black slaves themselves. In 1818, slave trade was abolished in the Netherlands. Meaning they got out of the business 47 years before slavery was ended in the United States.

It's also important to realize that cultural diversity is still a pretty new thing in the Netherlands.

After 1960, economic growth in the Netherlands resulted in a significant labor shortage, causing the country to open its doors to guest laborers from Southern European and North African countries. The idea was that they'd all eventually return to their home countries once the Netherlands was back up to speed. But when the time came, instead of returning home, they called for their families to come and join them in the Netherlands where the quality of life was much higher than where they came from.

To be honest, I have more than enough digits on my person to count the number of black people I have seen/met since living in the Netherlands. Living in Utrecht means I'm in one the the 4 largest cities in the Netherlands, so it's not like I'm out in the sticks. And most of those are expats.

A most interesting thing happened the last time I was in the US...

For those who don't know, my daughter will turn one on Sunday. A few weeks ago, we went to the US to visit my family there and celebrate Thanksgiving.

One morning for breakfast, we headed out to IHOP. The restaurant is located near my brother's house, the food is good, the service is fast, and the staff is friendly.

We got a booth at the back of the restaurant and our waitress brought over a highchair. She made all over Daughter as we set her in the chair, making her smile and laugh. As she left to get our drinks, Daughter's eyes followed her until she was completely out of sight.

When she returned, Daughter couldn't take her eyes off of her, staring at her in complete awe. My daughter is an exceedingly friendly kid. She's very open and quick with a smile. People are always all over her, doting on her. But there was obviously something really special about this waitress. I mean, I'd never seen my daughter act that way with someone before.

Soon, it was time for our food to be delivered. This was done by a second waitress. She was also very nice and made all over Daughter. And Daughter was equally in awe of this woman: couldn't take her eyes off of her. I'd never seen anything like it.

It wasn't until the third waitress came over that I figured it out. She also fell head-over-heels for Daughter, no more or less than the other two. My daughter smiled at her and then turned back to try to pick up a piece of pancake on the table in front of her.

Three waitresses, each equally into my kid. But Daughter only had the awed reaction with the first two.

Then it hit me. The first two waitresses were black, but the third was white. Up until that morning, my daughter had never seen a black person before. In her eleven months, she had only ever seen one dark-skinned person: my best friend from Singapore.

I think that the Dutch simply don't see why people take such offense to Zwarte Piet because they don't have the history with racial issues that so many other countries do. This is a relatively new thing for them, and I don't think they know how to handle it.

And there are enough non-white people that willingly partake in the activities and see nothing wrong with it. There's been at least one black family at each Sinterklaas event I've been to, actively participating. If they had an issue with Zwarte Piet, they sure didn't show it.

Each year my husband's Moluccan colleague jokes that she should play Zwarte Piet at the office party to save the company money on make-up.

When I was taking my language courses, two Indonesian classmates had an "argument" as to who would be a better Piet.

My friend from Singapore thinks Zwarte Piet is perfectly harmless.

I think it depends on how you were raised to think about it. And how you choose to think about it. Because, I think you can find something offensive in just about anything if you put your mind to it. I think we've taken this PC thing too far on a lot of levels and that, as a society, we do tend to look for the offensive in everything (check out some of the comments on this article in the Irish Times)

That's not to say I'm opposed to things changing. And I've certainly considered all the alternatives thrown out there.

My feelings on the Rainbow Pieten? Leave the rainbow to the gay community. I think it's a cop-out. And I find it lame. "Let's make the Pieten multi-colored! Then, we're either offending no one, or offending everyone equally and at the same time!

My feelings on Just Piet? Another lame cop-out. While we're at it, let's make the Easter Bunny just The Bunny. Or the Tooth Fairy just The Fairy?

My feelings on getting rid of Piet altogether? Sure! And, while we're at it, let's sack the elves and reindeer. Let's get rid of the dreidel and the menorah. Let's take all the embellishments out of everything and leave only the basics. People, Piet is more beloved than the bearded, mitre-wearing man himself. Let's not kid ourselves. The holiday is for the kids. And they don't pin racial connotations onto Piet. Why take out their favorite holiday character because we can't just live and let live?

My feelings on the "he's just dirty from climbing up and down the chimney" theory? Does anyone really buy that? Yes, he spent all that time in the chimney and got so sooty it turned his face and hands completely black, but his clothes miraculously stayed pristine! I think not. It's a lame excuse, Dutchies. Stop using it. We all know better and it just makes you look insensitive and naive.

But, wait.... why don't we take that idea and run with it? If we're going to say he's dirty from going up and down the chimney, then let's make his make-up accurately reflect that and call it a day. Then everyone's happy.

Zwarte Piet stays Zwarte Piet, but gets a 'make-under' to look more like Bert The Chimney Sweep and less like Al Jolson. what is now the lame chimney excuse becomes a viable explanation.

Sadly, I didn't come up with this, but I do think it's brilliant. And you might actually be able to convince the Dutch to hop on board for this one.

I don't ask you to agree or like anything I've said here. I don't think I'm necessarily right. I don't think I'm necessarily wrong. And, honestly, as a white woman, what does my opinion count for anyway? But I've been silent on this for too long and, damn does it feel good to get it out!

So, since I've already opened Pandora's box... What are your feelings about Zwarte Piet? What alternatives do you suggest? (And, play nice!)

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Leave some love for Clogs and Tulips

PhotobucketBeen rather lonely here on the blog, hasn't it? I guess an almost-eleven-month-old, a dog, a career change, a presidential election, and, well, just life in general will do that to you.

It's my sincere hope to get on the blog more, though I can't make any promises in regards to regularity. Believe you me, there is so much I need to share, so there's certainly no shortage of possible blog posts. It's just finding the time to make them a regularity.

What I can say is that, while the blog will still contain informational posts, guest posts, Q&As, and all that other stuff you've been coming here for, it's going to start taking a much more reflective tone. All I'll say for the time being is that it goes with the flow of some of the changes in my personal life in the last year.

It occurred to me today that I've been at this crazy blogging thing for three years now. And it's been an excellent three years. For me, anyway. I've learned more about myself and this country I now call home through this blog and met some incredible people.

If, during those three years, this blog has touch or helped you in some way, please consider taking a moment to support Clogs and Tulips by leaving a comment sharing some of those things and giving the blog a rating. You see, this blog has been nominated for the Expat Blog Award. And the comment and rating count as your vote. You can vote for Clogs and Tulips as well as the numerous other excellent expat blogs (in the Netherlands and throughout the rest of the world).

To leave a comment, click here or the award icon in the right-hand sidebar, scroll down the page that pops up until you get to the comment box, pop in a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5-star rating, your name, an email address, and a comment (at the moment, this area is completely empty, so you can even be the first to vote!).

Whether you vote or not, thank you so much for reading the blog, leaving comments, contributing, sharing, submitting your questions, and passing along the blog's information.

Till next time!

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tulip Mania

The Tulip Mania2This is a guest post by Ella Andrews.

If there is one universal symbol the Netherlands it is the tulip.

These flowers became a focal point for an entire culture at the time of the Tulip mania or Tulpenmanie as the Dutch call it around 1637 AD.

The Dutch Republic as the Netherlands were known then had received a present in the face of the first bulbs and seeds of tulips by the Flemish writer and diplomat Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq. He reputedly brought them all the way from the Ottoman Empire where he was once an ambassador of Austria.

The flowers took root so to speak, and the botanist Carolus Clusius had a collection of them planted at the University of Leiden. Being a flower unlike any other in Europe at the time with its bright colors and beauty it quickly became a rising status symbol for the entirety of the Netherlands.

Free of the Spanish incursion, the Low Countries were once again part of their lands and this ushered a newly rekindled flair for trade which lead to the period known as the Golden Age. The new trading class surrounded itself with the flowers as a symbol, often having large gardens filled with them around their mansions.

At that time Dutch traders had incredible profits coming from their trade with the West Indies and later through their monopoly on their trade with Japan. Tulips became highly prized and their prices soared overtime, up to the point where Vincent Van Gogh included them in his works, inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock paintings.
The Tulip Mania
In time the culture itself came up with names for different types of tulips as it is shown here:

  • Couleren – these were single-color red, yellow or white tulips.
  • Rosen – these were white tulups with red or pink streaks.
  • Violetten – almost self-explanatory, lilac or purple with white streaks.
  • Bizarden – a rare example of white streaks on red, brown or purple.

These strange colors appeared as a result of the so-called Tulip Breaking Virus or TBV, which infects tulips and lilies, breaking down their colors and allowing deviant combinations.

Its existence and effects in infecting tulip bulbs were not truly discovered all the way until 1979 so for a long time flower enthusiasts had no idea what caused this mutation.

Because of the uniqueness of every variation affected by the virus this soon spawned rare varieties of the tulip flower, coveted by the rich and poor alike. The popularity of the virus-infected bulbs was rapidly growing and overtime prices were incredibly high and at some point during the spring of 1637 prices dropped incredibly low due to people slowly becoming disillusioned and fed up with the madness on the market.

Reputedly at the height of the madness the price of a single tulip bulb was the equivalent of around $76 000! Traders speculated with the market at the time and used the growing mania to make rapid sales which eventually led to a total market collapse in the end because the prices were impossible to match.

During the centuries a lot has been written about this and even today the Tulip mania is given as an example on how crowds can behave irrationally over products, thus probably inspiring a lot of the modern market tricks and strategies for advertising. Even though the tulip mania ended, its legacy remains today as the flower is universally recognized as the symbol of the Netherlands and they are still highly sought after, albeit at more affordable prices.

If you want to find a truly classic example of a Tulip mania flower, you should try obtaining a Semper Augustus bulb, which at the time was the most highly sought-after variation of tulips produced by the viral infection.

The opinions and content within this post are solely those of the guest poster and in no way reflect the views of the Clogs and Tulips blog or its blogger.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The #1 mistake you're probably making in planning your trip to Holland

So, you’ve made your vacation plans: you're headed for Europe, and on your list of things to see is Amsterdam.

Wait! Stop right there.


Now, don’t get me wrong – Amsterdam is a beautiful city with loads of historical and cultural influence, a fantastic night life, and exotic sites. But what about the rest of the Netherlands?

“Is there such a thing as ‘the rest of the Netherlands’” you ask.

You’d be surprised.

While I do encourage you to visit Amsterdam, I urge you not to pass the rest of the country by.

I know back when I was living in the US, the Netherlands was never referred to as ‘the Netherlands’. It was always just ‘Amsterdam’. When my then-boyfriend told me that he lived in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I was shocked.

There’s more than just Amsterdam? I thought.

Now that I live in the Netherlands, there is no doubt in my mind that there is so much more to the country than ‘just Amsterdam’. If I were to list all the things there are to do and see in this country (small though it may be) outside of Amsterdam, this would surely become the world’s longest blog post... Period.

Instead, I want to share with you some of the wonderful things you can see in Utrecht, the city I called home for the first three years after moving to the Netherlands.

Going back all the way to 97 AD, you could definitely say that Utrecht has a rich history. The city of Utrecht was officially declared a city in June 1122. And it has the architecture to prove it.

About a 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam, Utrecht joins Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague to form the Randstad – the four largest and most influential cities in the Netherlands.

If you ever decide to visit Utrecht (which I highly recommend that you do) here are a few things you won’t want to miss:

  • Every Saturday morning from 9am till noon in the city center is a huge textile market and an all-day flower market complete with bulbs, cut flowers, and indoor and outdoor plants of all shapes, sizes, and types. A regular market is held in the Vredenburg square every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
  • Be sure to grab a Broodje Mario to satiate your hunger as you shop and take in the sights. You can only get these amazingly delicious, super-Italian, über-filling sandwiches in the city of Utrecht. Amsterdammers come to Utrecht during the weekend specifically to indulge in a Broodje Mario.
  • Museums in the city include the Spoorweg Muesum (a super-cool train museum), Speelklok Muesum (clocks of all kinds, organs, organ grinders, you name it), Centraal Museum (modern art, Utrecht history, and various exhibitions), the home of famous Dutch architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld with some of his more popular works, the Dick Bruna House (Utrecht artist who created the little white bunny with a cross for a mouth called Nijntje - known in English as Miffy), and the Catherijneconvent Museum (former convent complete with ancient manuscripts, various artifacts, and Dutch art).
  • Hoog Catherijne is one of the only (as well as one of the largest) shopping malls in the Netherlands for those with holes in their pockets and Euros to spend.
  • The Dom Tower in Utrecht used to be joined to the beautiful Dom Church until turbulent weather destroyed the poorly-made passageway. After visiting the church and next-door cloister, head over for a tour of the tower. Tours are held in English and Dutch and the tower is a good 465-stair climb. But, if you make it all the way to the top and it happens to be a clear day, you can tell everyone that you’ve seen Amsterdam. In addition to being able to see Amsterdam from atop the tower, keep your eyes peeled for some of the rooftop decorations left for the benefit of tower visitors.
  • There are also some gorgeous castles nearby. Kasteel de Haar is a medieval castle and the largest castle in the Netherlands. It was restored from ruins in 1890 by Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt and is now open to visitors. Slot Zuylen is another medieval castle though much smaller. During the 18th century it was the home of writer Belle van Zuylen.

(Unfortunately, the Netherlands in general is not always so fantastic about providing information on their websites in English. Luckily, Yahoo! BabelFish does direct translations of websites!)

So how about adding Utrecht to your travel wish list? Or any other city in the Netherlands while you’re at it. Then you’ll be able to say that you did more than ‘just Amsterdam’. Happy travels!

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