15 september 2017

When you land at Schiphol airport on your way to the congress in Amsterdam, you will be 7 meters below sea level. That’s a bit scary, with the recent floods in South Asia and Houston in mind. But in the Netherlands we are prepared for this, as we are living with the sea already for hundreds of years. The western part of the country is very low and flat, often with just as much water as there is land. Extensive waterworks are already being constructed since the early Middle Ages. This required a high degree of cooperation and a strong government. One of the magnificent achievements from the 17th century is found near Rotterdam: the series of windmills of Kinderdijk, which pump the water out in concert and created land out of swamp.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor molens kinderdijk luchtfoto

Climate change has accelerated precautions against sea, rivers and heavy rain. Keeping a low country dry is not just a matter of dikes, but requires organization in many aspects, and is a process that takes decades. Our last large flood in 1953 killed more than 1800 people, and the measures taken since then are still not finished. Gigantic doors have been constructed to protect the people of the delta in the south, with ingenious mechanisms that promote safety but leave space for ships and fish alike. Although this sounds technical and boring, the Delta Works are absolutely worth visiting https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Delta_Works.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor deltawerken

Many less-visible measures are taken to live with water even closer than we did before. The picture of the swimming bus below does not show a recent flood, but is an amphibian, very efficient transport service in the Rotterdam area. You may even book a tour to the windmills of Kinderdijk above, check this http://www.waterbus.nl/specials-evenementen/. In Amsterdam the canals are littered by houseboats, but a recent variation on this theme is a complete quarter of floating houses, indistinguishable from your own home but rising with the water level. Along the major rivers such as the Rhine, large natural areas have been reserved to store the water in case of heavy rain, and this has provided pleasant space for water recreation – desperately needed in this densely populated country.

desperately needed in this densely populated country.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor waterbus rotterdam splash

Over the centuries, rich people preferred dry soil, and the watery areas were for the poor. In a way this is expressed in names of the people. One of the most common names is Van Dijk, which means from the dike, because this was traditionally the safest place to live. But the second most common name is Van den Berg, which means from the mountain. There are no mountains in The Netherlands. Probably they meant the barely visible sand hills, just a few centimeters above sea level. In contrast, nobody carries the name From the Swamp, although that would have been highly appropriate for the poor. Today life in the swamp has become fashionable: a house where you can take a dive in the crystal clear river water directly from your bed, costs around € 800.000,-.


23 August 2017

There is a huge problem with crime in The Netherlands: we don’t have enough criminals. As a result, several prisons had to close not only the cells but also their front doors. This has led to unexpected unemployment. Actually at the moment there are more than enough alternative jobs for former prison personnel, but prison guard seems to be a nice job – because there is nobody there, I guess. Some of our criminals still have go to crime-school because they don’t seem understand their profession; see for example the guy below that stole two lantern poles and fled over the highway in broad daylight.

As in many other countries, a large share of the crime in The Netherlands is drug-related. Visitors of our country often think that everything is free here, but that is not the case. If you buy hash in one of the many Amsterdam coffee shops – where you can get anything except coffee – you will be a criminal yourself. But you can smoke your joint in the canteen of the police station, because soft drug use of less than 5 grams will not be punished. The ‘coffee’ shops are left alone by the police as long as they don’t sell their customers more than 5 grams per purchase. The heavy criminality is in the large-scale production and the trade of the drugs.

By the way, there is also real coffee in Amsterdam, but then behind names such as Coffeecompany, Coffee and Coconuts, or Koffie Akademie; check this one out http://awesomeamsterdam.com/best-coffee-in-amsterdam/ for some recommendations. If you go to the Fietsfabriek you can get a coffee plus a bicycle repair plus a haircut.

In general, crime goes down rather significantly, and this trend is already visible for a decade. Amsterdam has become a very safe and friendly city. The depressing scenes of heroin addicts near the station are long past. Addicts are considered as patients, and those who have recovered go teaching at primary and high schools about their previous experiences, illustrated with color pictures. It has become obvious to our youth that there is nothing heroic about being a drug addict, and that helped a lot.

Despite the objectively lowering crime rates and near absence of physical violence, the general public is not convinced. And of course it’s true: in the city center and at the airport you have to watch your money. Nasty, but not really dramatic. I have become a victim myself of inverted crime: somebody brought me a bicycle rather than stole it. I left it unlocked on the street for two weeks in case it was a mistake, but nobody picked it up, neither stole it. Even the police did not want to have it. So there was no other way than become an inverted criminal myself and give it away to somebody. I still feel guilty.



17 July 2017

Amsterdam is the world’s prime bicycle city. You certainly will have to get used to the Amsterdam-style traffic, with bicycles densely packed everywhere, moving or in standstill, and not paying much attention to rules, traffic lights, or pedestrians. This determines much of the atmosphere in the small streets of the city centre, where you just hear the soft buzz of tires on the pavement, and people’s voices. Many bicycles are old and rusty, and there are hardly any repair shops around, because the “fiets” is such a daily utensil that nobody pays any attention to its condition: as long as it moves it’s OK.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor fietsenzee

Still the bicycle is subject of major innovations. In front of Schiphol Airport you may lend a wooden bicycle, to go to your nearby hotel. A latest trend came from a technical student collective who developed a plastic bicycle called ‘Dutchfiets’ by crowdfunding. After a few years of intensive usage you can get your deposit money back when you return it for recycling.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor notenhouten fiets van Jan Gunneweg,Afbeeldingsresultaat voor plastic dutchfiets 

But probably you just want to enjoy the landscape. Close to the congress center you can rent bicycles for just a few euros per day. The bicycle station is practically the start of a beautiful tour through traditional Netherlands rural landscape, with lots of water, 17th century farmhouses, windmills, and birds everywhere. Over the centuries the villages were built along the rivers. You will cycle over winding dikes with polderland deep below. Notice that the water level of the river is higher than the polder grassland. If the water would not be pumped out continually, the entire western half of the Netherlands would flood and disappear into the sea. This has happened a number of times over the centuries, but thanks to impressive engineering works, with waterlocks and giant revolving doors at the estuaria the country is safe. The mighty constructions of the 17th century now add to the picturesque landscape. Along the way you may be surprised about small tables at the roadside with a display of fruit or vegetables, plus a little money box for payment. And no shopkeeper. Nice to see that everybody is kind enough to pay. We will soon recommend some nice tours that start close to the congress center and that are within reach even for the non-experienced cyclist.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor fiets abcoude gein



30 June 2017

Isn’t it remarkable that in countries with, let’s say, a somewhat greyish climate, like The Netherlands, people of all ages tend to prefer grey or black clothing? And on the contrary, in climates where the sunlit colors are overwhelming, people dress like bunches of flowers. In The Netherlands there is nevertheless one area of baroque exuberant excitement, and that is the street organ. The mechanic rotary organs are full of color, with clumsy movements and a lot of noise. As an apparent contrast, many of them have a half-way dead horse in front, to pull the harmonium that drums, whistles and dances entirely on its own. Market places typically are cheered up by these miracle machines that originated from 19th century Italy, but have found their way to the rainy streets of Holland. They are not exactly classical, as they follow modern popular music in a penetrating way. Imagine such a machine at the traditional center of Delft, suddenly stamping and roaring Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in a way you don’t get it out of your head anymore for the next three days.

This music is not exactly for listening, but from a distance it merges with the summer sounds of the city, and makes an atmosphere of pleasure and relax. There are many street sounds in Amsterdam that are amazing. Many musicians are really excellent, providing moments of happiness free of charge.

Street artists are forbidden in the city center because there were too many. Just avoid the tourist-overcrowded canal district and go to the Opera House or the National Museum, and enjoy.

One of our top-musicians at the moment is Janine Jansen playing the violin, but for her performance you need a ticket in the Concertgebouw, one of the best concert halls of Europe.

Night owls will have a good time in Amsterdam’s dozens of jazz cafes. Starting late at night, there is free entrance, free music, free fun; just pay for the beer until the next morning (don’t forget to shave before you enter the congress hall again). Most of the music centers are located within the circular canal zone that that makes up the historical city. Easy to reach by tram, and to get back, take a walk, the sun will get up at 05.24 AM, thus nothing to worry.

At the Museumplein, a large lawn surrounded by Amsterdam’s major museums, there are always some guitars or drums, and if not, it is nice anyway. People gather there for a picnic or a chat, or to play basketball. Even policemen are quite relaxed; see this tough motorized law enforcement officer scoring some points while cheered by the crowd.

Of course we expect you to be present at the congress. There will be enough to do, with five to seven parallel sessions. But we also would like you to have a good time. Amsterdam is a small city, almost everything is within walking distance, and trams run very frequently between RAI and the city center. As an alternative, bicycles or Segways can be rented at low cost. We will give more precise information on getting around in the city by the time you are packing your suitcase.





Are you ready for Amsterdam?
10 May 2017


One of the first things visitors to The Netherlands always ask is: what is your special dish? Food in Amsterdam is quite international, but let’s focus on things that are considered as ‘typically Dutch’, i.e. that you normally don’t eat at home. What about this menu. As a starter, I recommend raw herring. Actually it is not exactly raw, but it is a bit fermented, and without the head so that you can be sure at the very least it’s dead. Dip the fish in onions and pickles, take it by the tail, bend your head backwards, mouth wide open ‒ and let the fish swim vertically into your throat. Instructions can be found here. Delicious!
As main course: hutspot. That is a stew of cooked potatoes, onions and carrots, served with meatloaf in a creamy vinegar mustard jus. This type of food was standard for poor farmers in wintertime in the 19th century, when there was not much else left to eat; remember the kind of depressive scenery that was pictured by Van Gogh. Not particularly fun-eating, but actually it tastes quite good.

Obviously this is historical poor men’s food. Nice to eat in wintertime, when it’s snowing outside and everybody is depressed. But today we eat differently. Close to the ISHAM congress center you will find restaurants from all continents. For centuries Amsterdam has lived on international trade, and thus daily food for most people is a mixture of French, Indonesian, Thai, Italian, and many more. Try this one https://www.bolenius-restaurant.nl/ for example, a restaurant that takes its fresh vegetables from small gardens between the skyscrapers near the congress center.

This looks more like the sunny side of life, isn’t it?
Deserts can be real pieces of art, but we go for something simple: the stroopwafel. Two thin slices of cookie glued together with caramel syrup, originating from the town of Gouda – the town of the Gouda cheese. At markets they are hand-made, producing a delicious sweet smell.
Another Netherlands specialty is genever a distillate similar to gin and made according to centuries-old recipes, containing up to about 40% alcohol. Genever has become very trendy again in Amsterdam, but traditionally it is often taken together with a beer, as a stelletje. But for that part of the even better visit one of the 1000 cafes in Amsterdam, several of which are specialized on beer, serving 100 or more different kinds. Enjoy!