Local Heart, Global Soul

March 20, 2014

Less Haute Couture and More Haute Coiffure…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Some countries have a distinctive melody that runs through them, a certain sound that is synonymous with their history, culture and traditions.

Cities in Europe with their cobbled and often narrow streets are no different.

The music differs from country to country or even from province to province and here in The Netherlands the sound you will often hear whilst out shopping on a busy Saturday is usually that of the local barrel organ.

There are small ones, like one  elderly man that I know who has one the size of a baby’s pram, it’s basically a tall box on wheels and he winds it up and the music tinkles through the neighbourhood, bringing curious children out of the surrounding houses like ants to honey.

He’s a frail looking gentleman but always immaculately dressed, very formal and polite and when the kids cage lose change from their parents to put into the collection tin, he is always very appreciative.

More often the barrel organs are bigger, very ornate with highly decorated painted wooden figures that often make simple movements of their own as the music plays.

The organ is mounted on a wagon that is in turn pulled by a horse, and it’s not at all unusual to see one making their way down any local big city shopping street with the vendor shaking a tin that indicates that a “token” for listening to the music would be appreciated.

The tin, as far as I have experienced in the last twenty years of living here, always takes the same form, but the vendors differ: some can be rather aggressive as they shake the tin loudly under your nose and make it more difficult to pass without making a contribution.

I started out being more than a little intimidated by them, feeling  obliged to pay even if  I was short of cash or in a hurry, but I got tougher and now I weigh up the vendor and the situation and react accordingly. My attitude these days is simple: the more aggressive they are, the less willing I am to donate, if they are friendly and I’m not in a hurry, would like to take photos, or if the kids are with me and we fancy stopping and listening for a bit, then I will press coins into little palms so that they can go up to put them into the tin.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

It’s a little known fact that The Hague has a surprising number of inner city stables: they are well hidden behind unassuming doors off both small and large streets, and there are apparently well over fifty of them.

It was therefore no surprise for me when I heard familiar music whilst walking around the inner city streets of Deft with my visiting Singaporean friend “Velvetine”.

Since we could hear them before we could see them I explained to Velvetine that it would be a new experience for her and we should make a small detour.

Around the corner of Oude Kerk (Old Church)  came the source of the music… and a horse with the best haircut  in the Netherlands.

In fact it’s fringe was waaaay better than mine… so  yes it’s possible that a horse can make you suddenly realise that you are having a bad hair day! The street area where we were was quiet and the vendor turned out to be very friendly when I asked if my overseas guest and I could please take photographs , so naturally we dallied for a a tune or two and were generous when it came to making a contribution.  We saw them again later and waved a friendly goodbye before we left,  but somehow I don”t even think the horse saw us though all that hair…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrel_organ

March 16, 2014

Nosing Through The Tat And The Treasures…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

There is nothing more relaxing and satisfying than slowly browsing or  rummaging around the myriad of stalls that make up a bric-a-brac or flea market.

In the summer outdoor market along the canals of the inner central city of the Dutch city of Delft, there are many typically Dutch items to be found so visiting Singaporean friend “Velvetine” could get a few history and cultural lessons from me as we browsed the stalls.

This is Delft so naturally there are painted tiles and plates, most of these are of the transfer printed type but if you are very very lucky you might find a  hand painted example for sale too.

My experience is that because this market is well known and attracts many visiting tourists, the prices are often at the higher end of you you could expect to be paying: there are better bargains to be had at lesser known, smaller places, but these places take time to get to and usually have a smaller selection so it’s a case of being lucky and being in the right place at the right time. Sadly there is another aspect to these little out of the way places too, it’s an annoying fact that even though I was born Dutch, speak Dutch and am as good at driving a hard bargain as any of my fellow Dutch,  I was not born here and English is my first language so I of course speak Dutch with an accent.

If I go to bargain in a pokey little out-of-the way second hand shop, my accent will give me away as a foreigner and the price of the piece adjusted upwards during the bargaining process accordingly. As a result, when hunting down some old  antique wardrobes some years ago, I “scouted” the places that had the pieces we required and when I found the ones I wanted, got Himself, a born and bred Dutchman to come back later and do the bargaining.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Markets like the ones at Delft are aimed mostly at the tourist customer,  you will have to weigh up the fact that you are probably not getting a genuine bargain, but on the other hand it’s still cheaper than  internet shopping and paying postage. In the end if you love the piece you are buying then that also counts for a lot, if you walk away with a piece that will give you pleasure for years to come, or which is a rare addition to a collection you already have then maybe price becomes less relevant.

Most important to remember of all,  is that no matter what price the vendor gives you, some bargaining is acceptable so learn to pull a few faces of pain and a friendly grin when being given the first price and at least ask for a cheeky discount, and than offer a figure somewhere half way between the vendors original price and your cheeky offer. Often this “compromise” will be met with a shrug, a smile and an “OK then… just for you…”  so you can at least get some discount. The adage “the early bird gets the worm” is also true at markets like this:  the good stuff often disappears quickly so if you know that you want to look around this kind of market, get up early and be one of the first customers as the vendors are unpacking.

It’s a risk getting a bargain at the end of the day but I’ve managed it a few times, for example once for a large old wooden deed box for which I convinced a vendor that if he gave me a decent discount he would not have the hassle of trying to get back into his tiny van, storing and lugging around to the next market. If you use charm, are friendly and twist their arms you might get lucky, on that particular day I pitched a very cheeky low offer after at least five minutes of chat and to my surprise it was accepted.

You never know what might turn up at places like these, the looking  around, some friendly banter with the vendors is half the fun and that’s the whole point of enjoying a stroll whilst nosing through the tat and the treasures.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

March 15, 2014

Not Quite The Tradtional Coffee And Appletaart, But Just As Good…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

There are numberous cafés and restaurants around the  “old town”of central Delft.

There are a constant stream of tourists who visit the town and congregate in the central square after visiting some of the many local attractions, or locals out shopping who often love to stop for a morning or afternoon cup of good coffee and apple tart, or something traditional like a pannenkoeken (pancakes) for lunch.

Coffee is a Dutch institution:  compared to many countries with anglox-saxen heritages, here in The Netherlands they like their coffee strong and establishments that serve bad coffee rarely procure repeat customers.

Appeltaart (apple cake) may be the most popular Dutch treat to accompany this coffee, but it’s by no means the only cake on offer.

My visiting Singaporean friend “Velvetine” and I have been walking around and taking photographs, it’s slow going for me on crutches but we are not in a rush, but that said there comes a moment when I get desperate to sit down and take a break from standing up. This moment comes just after we have been spying out the delights of the local central market food stalls and since our stomachs are rumbling we indulge in some cake of our own. Mine is a decadent chocolate number, Velvetines is a strawberry mousse sort of confection. Nether of us are coffee drinkers, and anyway it’s a warm day so cold drinks all round.

The café / restaurant we are at is called “the ABC Café Restaurant”, service is good, the cake is delicious and judging by the number of  Dutch locals I hear chatting all around us, the coffee apparently is too.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

March 8, 2014

Keeping My Feet From Getting Wet…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Windmills have been an iconic part of  Dutch culture and a necessary part of Dutch life for centuries.

Maybe people know that a good deal of  the Netherlands lies undersea level but what many people don’t realise, is just how high the natural water table is in most of the country.

Mills and modern pumping stations work  and monitor twenty-four hours a day and three hundred and sixty-five days of the year to  regulate the water-table so that it does not simply rise to it’s “natural” level and therefore give Dutch citizens wet feet.

This is achieved by pumping water off the land and into the surrounding canal system at a constant rate, the water is directed though the canal network and pumped out into the sea with every low tide.

During especially high tides in Spring and Autumn the sea levels are so high that often it’s difficult to open the gates to release the “inland” water, and this puts the whole system under pressure.

This pressure is often alleviated by the installation of modern technology, faster pumps, the elevation of old dykes and the installation of flood plains where excess water can be directed in emergencies.

Sometimes water can be held at high levels in canals until it can be released into the sea, but one thing is for certain, water management in the Netherlands is very much a full time job. In fact it even has it’s own government department.

The polders (reclaimed land) are of course something that the Dutch are world famous for and there is a half serious side to the popular saying ” God created the world but the Dutch created Holland.

“Molen” (mills) were wind powered but were not only used to pump water, amongst other things they also provided the energy for saw mills or helped mill flour. I like the old style molen, they have charactor and personality. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and they are a necessary part of the historical and current Dutch working lanscape.  Here therefore in this last post from Zaans Schans is my tribute to the humble Dutch mill….

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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March 7, 2014

Now Let’s Wiggle Those Tail Feathers!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Patterns are funny things,  either natural or man made: some you love, some you hate and some just for better or for worse amaze.

Things in nature often have patterns that are beautiful in their detail and colour, such as the brilliant greens and blues in a peacock’s plumage, the patterns in leaves and trees, the markings in rock and stone.

Here in Zaans Schans there is an area of polder called the Klaverpolder ,  “klaver” translates as “clover” and an information board gives at least as good a definition of “polder” as I can:

This polder (an area of reclaimed land) is a typical example of the soft boggy pasture land of the region: long narrow parcels of low-lying land surrounded by drainage channels. The water in the (this) polder, now a nature reserve, is regulated by watermills.”

This is the area of the museum where the working farm buildings have been placed together, there is also a small working farm and “childrens’ zoo” where sheep, goats, chickens, ducks etc  can be seen at close quarters, and the workings of a farm explained.  The cow  in the farmyard is however made of fibreglass and fitted with rubber teats so that children can try out their milking skills, something that Little Mr. found was harder to do than it first looked.

Feeding the chickens and the goats made us some firm friends (for as long as the food supply lasted) and got me up close to some chickens who’s plumage was a work of art not only in the way only covered the birds body but also in the shape and colour of the patterns it made whilst doing so. Even the chicken that looked from afar like it was plain black in colour, revealed itself to be a range of beautiful mottled shades of browns and black at close range.

I attempt to get close and study the complex and beautiful arrangement of feathers,  Mother Nature is most certainly without doubt a genius pattern designer, both in form and function. The children are quick to explore the  farmyard and to take the opportunity to run around and burn off some energy, the sun is now out and more people are suddenly also out and about around us.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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March 6, 2014

The Very Strange Mixture Of Wonder And Disbelief…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Tourist shops are tourist shops: piled high with merchandise that can generally be classified as “the good, the bad and the ugly”…

…or more often ” the ugly, the useless and ugly and the both tasteless, useless and ugly”.

Here in Zaans Schans it’s running pretty much to the rule, there are a few tasteful  things and a ton of tat, but most of all there are shoes: tons and tons of wooden shoes.

I’m not an ornamental type of gal, the porcelain figures of the cute kitsch Dutch boy kissing the cute kitsch Dutch girl are light-years from what I would call a stunning addition to my home.

But each to their own… someone must like them and buy them or things like these wouldn’t be on sale in Dutch tourist shops.

Personally I wouldn’t object to a pair of klompen (clogs / wooden shoes) , but my pair of choice would preferably be old, even antique, very well used, plain in style and have been clearly worn. They would have ( preferably long)  history and character. Imagine my shock therefore when I came around the corner of the corridor in the museum and discovered the tourist shop. “Wall to Wall” clogs is n understatement… it’s wall to wall and floor to ceiling and the entire ceiling covered with clogs. The loft space of the building is visible and even that is a storage space for clogs.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

You name a shoe size and they will surely have clogs here to fit, I can seriously say I have never seen so many clogs in one space, and in fact I hazard a guess that some regular Dutch shoe shops have less pairs than this. From a photographic point of view it’s fascinating,  from a personal point of view I’m cringing, it’s like a weird melange of  “Oh Wow!” and “Ew!” at the same time.

At one end of the room it’s possible to see a demonstration of how the clogs are made, as I stand taking photographs a young man comes and carves out a little more on a clog mounted on a lathe nearby. I find the rough, less hewn pairs more fascinating than the shiny, glossy, painted finished pairs.

I also like the decoration on the old metal till better than the little porcelain blue and white windmills.  Sigh, having confessed that must I now relinquish my Dutch nationality? Is this treason? These clogs are fascinating: I wonder on earth buys them all, do they actually try and wear them? ( I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall when they did because surely these can’t be correctly fitted or comfortable?) …do they hang them on the wall? …do they park pot plants in them? .. or are they shoved in the back of a cupboard or adorn the cistern on the loo?

I have a smile on my face… one of wonder and disbelief, but each to their own I suppose: what scares me in this room obviously makes a lot of other tourists very, very happy indeed. Mind you, upon reflection maybe it’s me that’s the odd one out here, after all I adore old tools and patterns on street drain covers… One thing is for certain: The object that is one man’s nightmare is another’s dream, and wht not? … each to their own.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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February 15, 2014

So Little Seedling, Smile For Your Photograph To Make The Grade…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

In the summer of 2012 our Singaporean visitor “Velvetine” used her international contacts in her specialist horticultural circle and was invited to visit a specialist plant and seedling nursery in The Netherlands during her stay with us.

Family Kiwidutch got to go along for the ride, and even though I have to confess to having almost zero horticultural knowledge, I totally enjoyed this inside look into an industry that is usually closed to public view.

The company rises and exports seedlings and plants, but the vast majority of the plants here are breed entirely for the next generation of seedlings, which are then shipped world wide.

We get to see some of the operational side of the industry (there were other rooms where workers were busy with plants which we were not permitted to enter or photograph, so naturally those areas are not covered here).

The five of us get a personalised tour, and shown a conveyor belt where tiny seedlings in their individual pellets are deposited into little holders that spin at speed along the machinery racks and into an x-ray machine where a computer also photographs each seedling from the top and the side and detects if the seeding is defective in any way.

It all appears to take nano seconds and reject plants are spun off to a different area, whilst the ones who’s mug shots have been approved spin off to the end where the machine lines them up and packs them in neat rows on large trays.  It’s amazing what technology can do.

We learn that it’s cheaper and easier to export seedlings this size rather than fully grown plants, they will have plenty of time to grow to maturity at their destination, which can be almost any country you care to name, but that said the bulk go to Asia, and the countries of North and South America.

They will eventually be found in places like plant nurseries,  zoos,  commercial premises , botanical gardens, or plant research facilities.   I don’t know what plants each tray contains, but Velvetine pointed out a tray of  baby Venus Fly Trap plants with their tiny leaves about  five millimetres long.

The entire building we are in is heated, and  carefully temperature controlled so even though the weather is inclement outside, it’s totally tropical inside and Velvetine is feeling right at home in more ways than one. We follow our guide though to one of many massive glass-house “rooms”, also tropically heated and I’m amazed to see green trays of tiny seedling almost as far as the eye can see. The plants may be tiny, this the scale of this industry most certainly is not.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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February 13, 2014

The Delectable Mini Dutch Treat That Is The Poffertje…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

It had been a busy morning for my visiting Singaporean friend “Velvetine” and I back in August  of 2012.

The weather was still reasonably warm but  it had clouded over and started to rain heavily later in the afternoon so we  arrived at the Paviljoen Malieveld on the Koekamplaan in The Hague dripping and hungry.

After our pancake of yesterday’s post we decided that we fancied something sweet to end our meal so I had the idea to introduce Velvetine to another Dutch speciality: Poffertjes.

Poffertjes are a sort of miniature pancake, usually cooked in a special cast iron form that has little half-circle indentations in it.  They are flipped over half way though and puff up as they cook. They are then usually served with a pat of butter and lashings of  icing (powder) sugar. It’s late in the afternoon and the place is quiet. I ask the girl making the poffertjes if it would be ok to photograph her making them, and was assured it was no problem. She was however new to the job and was no expert on these just yet. She ladled the  poffertjes mixture into the heated irons and later flipped the little pancakes over. Once cooked they were duly served with butter and more icing sugar than I have ever seen on poffertjes  in all the time I’ve lived in The Netherlands.  Velvetine and I shared the plate and stuffed ourselves by eating the lot between us, more because they were delicious than because we were really hungry.  Velvetine seriously approves of this Dutch menu! (our waistlines didn’t, but you only live once right?). Yum!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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July 16, 2013

One Last Look Around Before We Hit The Road…

Filed under: PHOTOGRAPHY,THE NETHERLANDS,Traditionally Dutch,Zeeland: Veere — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
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It’s my final post from Veere and I have a batch of photographs that I like but didn’t fit into other posts. Some of the photos were taken in early spring, others on our more recent visit  last weekend. Here’s a final photo tour, Enjoy!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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veere 6t (Small)

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July 15, 2013

The Details Around Us Deserve To Be Seen…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

We are almost ready to leave Veere in Zeeland, The Netherlands.

Earlier in the day I took photographs of a beautiful and obviously very old building that stands next to the Stadhuis on Marktstraat (Market Street).

Often in medieval times there would be an important building connected to trade close to the Stadhuis, maybe of the guild of the town’s major industry, maybe a weighing house, or the medieval equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce.

From the size and style of this building I have a  strong suspicion it has more connection to a commercial purpose than a domestic one, but what that commercial purpose may have been isn’t as clear as it often is from stone marker decorations because stone marker in this instance depicts a swan.

I like everything about this building, even the side wall showing the small bricks that were in standard use in medieval times.

There are two window panes present in these windows, on the inner side, an old one of leaded glass, and on the outside a large pane to protect the inner one and provide a rudimentary sort of double glazing. Someone has inserted a wooden panel between the two, painted with the image of a girl in local costume, so that it looks like she’s inside the building looking out.

The closest view of her is from the top of the steps, but the window shutters and lack of handrail make for tricky photography, especially an accident  prone and less mobile  Kiwidutch who’s happy to err well on the side of caution. I hope to find out from our friend who lives in Veere if he knows more about this building and if so, will report back at a later date.

There is also one other very large and  important building in the town, but to be honest it was out of range of my walking ability at the moment so when we return to Veere in the future I will explore that one properly.

I also have to confess that although I took a quick photo of this building the first time we visited, it was so cold in the strong wind that I didn’t linger and never noticed the girl in the window, and even on the fabulously sunny day of the second visit I was amazed at how few people really looked hard at the building or appeared to notice this girl in the window as they walked by.

It’s my personal philosophy that the details around us deserve to be seen,  (which will hardly come as a surprise if you have been reading this blog for any length of time!)  But then again ….maybe I’m a little weird in taking such delight in a heap of bricks.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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