The Netherlands in North Carolina

High Point Welcomes Netherlands
Apologies for the poorly framed photo, but it was a quick shot in a moving car.

High Point (North Carolina) is home to the International Furniture Market twice a year. People from all over the world attend this largest furniture trade show in the world. As part of the city’s way of welcoming its international guests, there are signs like this for numerous countries lining some of the main streets in town. The Dutch Antilles also gets a flag.

The banner is a nice touch, but not particularly surprising. What did surprise me and, more specifically, make me laugh, was another sight noticed while driving on the highway.
Dutchmen
The Dutch and their camping! Anyone who has spent a bit of time in the Netherlands knows of the country’s love of camping. So, to see a camper called Dutchmen, right here on the highways of the US amused me tremendously. Even better? The two bikes attached!

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Queen Bea Says Bye

It’s an historic evening here in the Netherlands. Queen Beatrix made a speech on tv and radio tonight at 7 pm to say that she is abdicating on April 30. Those of you who are familiar with Queen’s Day will recognize the date. Prince Willem-Alexander will take the throne that day.

Queen Beatrix became queen in 1980 and is one of the longest reigning monarchs in current times. This will be the first time we’ve had a king in three generations.

It’s been fascinating to watch it in real time, even if the speech was technically prerecorded. Royal history has primarily been limited to marriages and births for me, and those were UK-related.

Not surprisingly, it’s big news here. TV coverage is ongoing and Facebook and Twitter are alight. Twitter here wasn’t even working well, since I’m sure there was so much traffic, since the Dutch are very involved with Twitter. Most of the trending topics were related to the royal family and the abdication.

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

Living in Netherlands
Out of 38 blogs written by expats in the Netherlands, I took bronze in the Expats Blog competition. They announced the winners on Sunday and I was truly happy to have even been a contender. Congrats to Adventures in Integration and Invading Holland for taking gold and silver respectively. They’re great blogs and truly deserve it! Check out the full listing to see the many fascinating blogs about life here in the Netherlands from other perspectives.

It was all thanks to the many amazing comments you left about my blog. I was truly touched to read them all and it’s nice to know that others enjoy my rambling on about buildings and history, with the occasional cat post for fun. The city is almost 2000 years old, so surely I should be able to find a few more things to write about.

In the meantime, here’s the snickerdoodle blondie I promised to anyone who left me a comment. I couldn’t have done it without your sweet words of praise!
Snickerdoodle Blondie

Weekly Photo Challenge: Together

Oranje

As I contemplated this week’s theme, I had originally thought to post photos of my dog and one of my cats, who are always together, despite their differences in size and species. But as I thought more about this week and the major national holidays being celebrated this week here in the Netherlands, I realized there’s another sense of together on which I could focus.

Monday was Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), where the entire country comes together to celebrate. Throughout the country, there are vrijmarkten (flea markets) set up where anyone can sell all sorts of things, ranging from household junkt to original art to homemade goods. Despite the crowds, at least here in Utrecht, there’s a real sense of friendliness and togetherness. Along with the vrijmarkt, there are concerts and DJs playing music, and a variety of other celebrations throughout the city, all with an overlying wash of orange!

This week — today and tomorrow — the country will also come together in remembrance and celebration. Today is dodenherdenking, in which all of the soldiers and civilians who died in wartime are remembered. At 7 p.m., the entire country will come to a halt, observing together two minutes of silence. A few years ago, I was at a concert, and although the show hadn’t started yet and the crowd was quite large and international, everyone joined together to observ the two minutes of silence. Tomorrow, 5 May, marks Liberation Day, celebrating the day that the Netherlands was finally liberated at the end of World War II. I live very close to the street where the liberating forces first arrived in Utrecht, and tomorrow a special statue of a polar bear will be placed on that street in honor of those forces, particularly the First Canadian Army, who were known as the Polar Bears.

This has been a week of togetherness, in both celebration and remembrance.

A Man on a Bike

Vrijmarkt

Orange on the Oudegracht

Dodenherdenking

Nederland in the News

Train Trein
The Netherlands has been making news over the past few days, for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. Although to watch some of the international news programs, you wouldn’t know it. For example, there was a train crash on Saturday, in which one woman died and 117 were injured, but it didn’t get a mention on BBC’s The Hub news program, which we watch nightly. It’s not that they don’t cover similar stories, since the plane crash that happened that day elsewhere was covered quite extensively.

It seems that the crash was the result of one of the drivers missing possibly missing a red light. However, the driver may not face prosecution, because the signal safety was out of date. It, and most of the other signals across the country, lack the updated security, which would cause the train to halt and avoid running into another train. They have been attempting to update the security of the signals since the 1980s, but the original plan was put on hold, because of a different EU system. However, the EU system was prohibitively expensive and never put in place. Since 2006, they’ve been installing an improved version of the system they started with in the ’80s, but only 1,264 signals have been refitted. Out of 6,000. The transport minister said in November of last year that she is not planning on rolling out the upgrade across the country. I wonder if that plan will change now.

Milling About
However, it is not likely to change any time soon, since the other bit of news is that our government has fallen apart. Geert Wilders, leader of the PPV, who made up an unofficial part of the majority coalition, decided to take his toys and go home (he pulled out of the budget negotiations), causing the coalition to collapse. Prime Minister Rutte (VVD) handed in his cabinet’s resignation yesterday to Queen Beatrix. There was a debate today as to when the election should be held, with some groups preferring to hold it within the next few months, but it seems as if it is going to be put off until the beginning of September. We will be left with a caretaker government in which the current figures carry on, but cannot make any major laws or changes.

The collapse hasn’t come as any real shock, since the VVD and CDA were unable to form a more stable coalition, ultimately having to depend upon an unofficial majority through the support of Wilders and his PPV party. The problem is that Wilders is a eurosceptic and heavily opposed to what he calls the “Islamisation” of the Netherlands and Europe in general. His party’s support has dropped recently as the party itself seems to be falling apart. He’s not well-liked by many here, and he was always viewed as the straw that would probably break the coalition’s back eventually.

So now comes the juggling to see which parties will take the lead in the election, which may well depend on when the election is held. If it were to be held sooner, certain parties would be more likely to come out on top, whereas with a longer delay, other parties might be able to take the lead. As for now, there’s still talk that an agreement over the austerity plan will be reached before the deadline of April 30, when it is supposed to go to the European Commission in Brussels. I guess we’ll see.

Here are some English-language stories with more details:
Train crash
Election
Government collapse

I thought this was an interesting opinion piece (in Dutch) about Wilders having laid the ground work to make a move to the US.

Gargoyles and Frothy Mixtures

Gargoyle
This was going to be a Wordless Wednesday post, since my brain’s addled from this awful cold that won’t let go. And to be honest, if I weren’t so familiar with American politics, I might have thought this story was just a figment of my fevered brain. But no. Rick Santorum seems to think that the Dutch are going around euthanizing everyone, especially the elderly, to the point that elderly people are too afraid to go to the hospital and are wearing “Don’t Euthanize Me” bracelets. As bad as I’ve been feeling, maybe I should get one of those bracelets. Just in case!

Get real. As if I wasn’t sick already, this kind of story — and the fact that Santorum is being considered a viable candidate for US president — makes me truly sick. Anyone who would spout those kinds of ridiculous lies — who wouldn’t fact-check the story like crazy before mentioning it in a public forum — deserves no place anywhere near politics, much less the presidency. Santorum and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly need to get their facts straight and stop spouting lies like rain from a gargoyle. (See how I tied in today’s photo? 😉 )

Whatever your views on religion and politics, you’re entitled to them. But you are not entitled to lie.

Here’s a nice article that breaks down the facts, if there are any doubts.

Water Works

As I’ve said before, it’s often the little things that can stand out the most when you visit or move to another country. Sometimes, those little things — like public bathroom options — become not so little when nature calls. In the US, there’s usually some sort of bathroom facility available for free somewhere close by. Of course, availability doesn’t necessarily match desirability. Still, in an emergency, there’s usually an option. Here, however, things are a bit more complicated. Well, if you’re a woman. Men, as always have things so much easier!

Waterworks

In this photo, the little building behind the fountain is, in fact, a public toilet. However, like many public toilets in the Netherlands, you have to pay to use it. To be honest, I have no idea how much toilets usually cost, as I’ve yet to use one. Luck and restaurants/bars with bathrooms for customers have resulted in my lack of knowledge. It’s not really surprising that there are so few public facilities, since most buildings, at least in the older city centers, are old and small and weren’t built with public bladders in mind. Still, even in large places such as train stations, you can expect to pay to use the facilities.

Toilet

As I mentioned, though, men often have it easier. Around the city, you’ll see more public urinals like the round, black structure above, and they, unlike the toilets, are free. They’re almost like works of art, in a Duchamp kind of way, I suppose. I still can’t help but feel that it’s a gender imbalance that there is a free version for men and not women, but I suppose men are more likely to go anywhere anyway, so might as well stop them from using random buildings or the canals, whenever possible.

Since public toilets are in short supply and it’s not always easy to find one when you need it, there’s a new app out — of course there is! — to help you find the nearest one. Designed by three students at the University of Amsterdam, HogeNood (Really Need To Go) will use your current location to help you out in a hurry. The app is still in beta form and only available for Android users at the moment, but I suspect an iPhone version will be available in the future. The students won the Apps4nl national prize for best smart phone app recently, so I’m sure the interest in the program will continue.

ETA: Great minds think alike, or “See! I’m not the only expat that puts this much thought and effort into writing about toilets”: Amy also wrote a piece about the app and adds the information that the toilets usually cost about €.50. So now we know! She also has an interesting piece about the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.

In the News

There are a couple of recent stories that have caught my interest, with some of them having tie-ins to things I’ve posted about recently or in general. I thought I’d do a quick run-down here of some of the stories and why they’re of interest to me.

Tick Tock

First up is the news that the Domtoren is no longer signaling the quarter hour as it used to do. It seems that one of the pieces that is used for the automatic playing is damaged through normal wear and tear, so it won’t be used until it can be replaced. The current piece in question has been there since 1980. Fortunately, once the piece is replaced, the Domtoren will go back to chiming every 15 minutes.

Lego My Chair
Next up is the news that Rietveld’s famous Red and Blue Chair (seen here in a Lego version) is inspiring artists yet again. DWA, along with RnB, has used the chair as the basis for their redesign project:

The redesign project is an experiment into using music as inspiration in the design process, we ‘remix’ existing designs according to various musical genres, with the hope of making design as expressive as music.

I particularly like the RnB IKEA (pop) version of the chair, perhaps because of the interactive element, as well as the humor of it.

Headscarves
Finally, in somewhat more serious news, Queen Beatrix has been in Abu Dhabi this past week on a state visit, and while there she visited the Great Mosque. Naturally, she wore a headscarf/hijab (over her hat) as is required of any woman wishing to enter the mosque. Of course, members of the generally anti-Muslim PVV party decided to lambaste the queen for doing so, claiming she was legitimizing the suppression of women. The queen fired back that it was “echt onzin/sheer nonsense”.

As one of the articles about the story points out, “Ironically the party’s remarks came while Beatrix was in Abu Dhabi, one of the Islamic world’s most emancipated states, where two-thirds of university students and 70 per cent new business owners are women.”

As another article says, Wilders, the leader of the PVV, has certainly been known to wear a yarmulke when visiting synagogues, despite the fact that he is not Jewish. Depending on the branch of Judaism, there are sects where you could argue that there is similar suppression of women. For that matter, I remember lessons learned at a Southern Baptist school that also made it clear that women were lesser beings. In other words, Wilders and his supporters are being a bit hypocritical to say the least.

So, there’s my roundup of stories I’ve come across this week and found of interest. Hopefully, you found some of it at least vaguely interesting, as well. If you’re in Utrecht tomorrow, don’t forget it’s the kick-off of the monthly Cultural Sunday events held throughout the city. There’s always something interesting going on somewhere!

Oh, one last thing … Go Saints! (The New Orleans Saints are playing a play-off game tonight. Fingers crossed that they win!)

Christmas in the Dam

Damplein
I thought I’d share a few photos I took in the Dam, one of the squares in Amsterdam, since it was particularly festive and lit up for the holidays. There was a huge kerstboom (Christmas tree), as well as lights suggestive of trees. The department store, Bijenkorf, was impressively lit, with lights on the walls that actually twinkled! With street musicians performing and everyone bustling about, it was quite charming and reminded me of New York City.

Rush Hour

De Bijenkorf

Night Life