Giethoorn – Dutch Camels, Goat Horns And The Other Venice

Giethoorn is a beautiful village situated in the Dutch province of Overijssel.

With over 180 bridges, this little settlement known as The Small Venice of The Netherlands, is only accessible by boat and attracts more and more tourists every year.

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Short History

The village of Giethoorn is a place full of history, with a fascinating past.

Founded in 1200’s by a group of fugitives from the Mediterranean region, Giethoorn was firstly inhabited by illegals and criminals.

The village got its name from a large number of goat horns found on the grounds after a massive flood, which destroyed the area a few years earlier. The settlers named the little village Geytenhorn, meaning ‘goat horn‘, which in time became Giethoorn, the name currently used nowadays.

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Wooden plank  with the emblem of Giethoorn

Early settlers, including Franciscan monks, took to peat mining and the canals were dug for transportation. Some areas became lakes, many of them not deeper than 1 m. Actually, the small village has currently only one lake naturally formed, also 1 m deep, like the water canals.

Only in 1958 Geithoorn became popular as a tourist destination, after the Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra made a comedy, Fanfare, at this location, attracting tourists in large numbers, who named the small village the Venice of Netherlands.

Water Canals and Bridges

As mentioned above, the place is not accessible by car. Inhabitants who own cars, have a special parking lot, where they leave their car, and jump into their boats for the rest of the trip home, or walk, depending on the area where their house is located. With so many water canals, the village is home for over 180 wooden bridges.

With so much water, Giethoorn is the place where even nowadays wooden boats are handmade, without any blueprints, like in the old days. This means every boat is unique, in shape, size and looks. The boats are considered so precious, they are passed from generation to generation.

giethoorn water canals bridges boats

Top right – Traditional boat handmade in Giethoorn

During history, with every new island created, every owner was forced to build his own bridge, to connect the property to the rest of the village. Starting off with only a simple wooden board from the shed, not wider than 30 cm, nowadays, the bridges are beautiful structures, over the very busy water canals.

Nowadays, nothing changed from this point of view, so the house owners are still in charge of building and maintaining their own bridges.

giethoorn houses and horses

Camel Roofs

Giethoorn is a village with beautifully designed houses. Even if all houses are unique, at a closer look, you will notice one thing most of them have in common, which is that the roofs have an unusual shape.

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Camel Roof

As the area was initially constantly affected by floods, the locals were forced to find a solution for their livestock. Bringing the animals inside was the best one, so the house roofs got a camel hump, in order to create the extra space needed.

Even more interesting, is the placement of the hump, which is towards the back of the house, to preserve the heat in the front of the house, during the cold season.

Even if not many goats live in the village at the present day, we can say the camels never left the area. 🙂

Cooking Houses

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Traditional Cooking House

Having straw roofs can be pretty dangerous, especially when you plan on doing some cooking. Because the locals were extremely afraid of fires, they decided to build the kitchen outside the main house, in a separate smaller house, with regular roof tiles.

Not much bigger than a garden shed from nowadays, the cooking houses are not used anymore, but kept as a reminder of the small village’s beautiful past.

Vacation islands and concerts on water

In the area, you can rent a vacation house, or why not, even your own little island.

lake ice cream concert hall island for rent giethoorn

Concert hall on water, floating ice cream store and island for rent

The place also hosts concerts on water, where people drive their boats to a stage in the middle of the lake, and listen to the performance.

The last farmer…

Tourism definitely changes the face of any location on Earth. People have to readjust and accommodate tourists, or simply relocate.

As the place became a major tourist attraction and everything is done by water, not all activities find a spot anymore, in the village’s new lifestyle.

During warm days, over 650 small boats are rented by tourists, not counting the larger tourist boats. As most tourists have no experience sailing, the narrow water canals are constantly very busy and sometimes traffic comes to a full stop, especially when most boats end up on top of each other, instead of passing by each other.

Considering the new traffic flow, farmers couldn’t possibly do their job anymore and had to switch from farming, to tourism, as bringing all the supplies needed, proved to be way too difficult and in some days, even impossible.

Even so, Giethoorn can proudly say it still has one farmer left, who’s still doing farming, by water, on his own little island, as it has always been done, since the beginning of the settlement.

Living in a place like Giethoorn sounds like a dream, but considering all the intensive tourism in the area, the place is slowly losing its charm for locals. Business vs privacy … Which one wins in the end?


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Flower Parade of Bollenstreek – Flower Overdose

For all you flowers lovers out there, the Netherlands is the place to be during spring. From wonderfully colorful flower fields, to tulip’s day, to flower gardens and parades, the Dutch really know how to celebrate their love for flowers.

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The Flower Parade of the Bollenstreek is the biggest event happening during springtime, becoming more and more every year, the symbol of the start of warm season. No other event is so full of color, perfumes and joy!

The origins of this event go back all the way to the end of the 1940’s, just after World War II, when people needed a bit of color and happiness in their lives, right after the war. The very first procession consisted only of a couple of flower garlands and decorated trucks. Still, it was the beginning of a great event.

Willem Warmenhoven, an amaryllis grower from Hillegom, is the creator of the first float, which took the shape of a whale, built out of hyacinths. Hillegom invited back then Sassenheim and Lisse, to cooperate at this event, which set the base for the large-scale parade taking place nowadays.

Like every year, this year the Flower Parade of Bollenstreek (the bulbs area), started in Noordwijk, and traveled slowly through Voorhout, Lisse, Hillegom, all the way to Haarlem, enchanting the spectators waiting for the colorful vehicles. In total, over 40 km of color, happiness and festive atmosphere.

With over 20 floats and 40 richly decorated vehicles, all covered in flowers, the procession made its way through the thousand of visitors, and around 9 pm Saturday evening, the illuminated parade arrived in the centre of Haarlem, ready for receiving a wave of admirers, on the following day.

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The entire Sunday, the parade floats were displayed in the beautiful old centre of Haarlem, the perfect time for seeing them closer, and clicking pictures with the million of flowers. Many activities were organized as well by the municipality, from music to street performances and food stalls.

And what better way to end such an amazing event, if not by sharing flowers with the spectators? Flowers sure put a smile on everyone’s faces 🙂

flower parade netherlands 2016

In the end, we have the appreciate the effort and dedication which are required in order to keep this beautiful tradition going. As every single flower, must be manually set in the right spot, you can only imagine how much time and patience it requires.

Happy Spring, from the bulb region!


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Happy Tulip Day on Nationale Tulpendag 2016!

As one of my Dutch friends says, the most important Dutch word is: ‘Gratis‘ which means ‘Free‘. I know everyone loves free stuff, but for Dutch people gratis holds an extra special spot in their hearts. This is why, when you also add to the equation the most famous Dutch flower, the tulip, you start an amazingly colorful event, loved by everyone.

Nationale Tulpendag is a celebration taking place every year, on the third Saturday of January, dedicated to tulips and color, when everyone is invited to pick their own tulips, from Amsterdam’s Dam Square.

National Tulip Day Jan 16 2016 - Dam Square Amsterdam

Dam Square is turned into a temporary garden, for one day, filled with over 200,000 tulips, waiting to find a good home. Even if still winter, this event marks the opening of the tulip season.

More than 10,000 people, in only 4 hours, go pick their favorite flower, every year, and obviously this year it was no different. And the best part is that it’s free!

In case you want to join the event, remember that the even if the opening hour is 1 o’clock, is better to arrive there one hour early, because you’ll have to wait in line to get in. Later in the day, the waiting becomes only longer, as more and more people want to enter the temporary garden.

As tulips are my favorite flowers, I just had to go pick a few. What can be better than spending some time between so many gorgeous tulips, in the middle of winter? Even better, coming home with the bike’s basket full of colorful flowers is a perfect way to brighten your day! If that doesn’t make you feel fabulous, I don’t know what does 🙂

National Tulip Day Jan 16 2016 Picking flowers and Bike basket

Even if there’s a long way to go until spring arrives, I’m extremely happy to be in garden full of flowers, even if only for a short while. Tulips definitely bring their own sunshine, and put a smile on everyone’s face.

Happy Tulip Day everyone!

National Tulip Day Jan 16 2016 Tulips

 


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Winter Hikes and Painting in Nature

One thing the Netherlands teaches you is to make your own weather. Considering that over here it rains almost every day, if you wait for the perfect weather, you’ll spend the rest of your life indoors.

Knowing that summer lasts for only one day, and is usually in July (last year it was on a Thursday 🙂 ), if you’re passionate about nature, you have to learn how to fight natural elements and go after what makes you happy, regardless of the high number of clouds present on the sky. It definitely toughens you up, which is not a bad thing at all!

With that being said, why not hiking during winter? Nature is beautiful all year around, so if you really want, you can find a lot of unique places to visit and breathtaking landscapes.

Equipped with hiking boots and curiosity, I went on a few 15 km long hikes, in the very green Dutch landscape. I must say, the mix of sand, earth, trees and water always leave me breathless. It makes you feel like it’s almost not possible to have them all in one spot, and still, it works just fine! What can be nicer than seeing the dunes, the sea and the beach, even on such a cold winter day?

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Hiking is wonderful but something I always wanted to do, is paint in nature, and I think there’s no better way to start the year, than with some fresh air, and a bit of creativity.

One thing is for sure about painting outside during winter, on a foggy day: if you don’t lose any fingers on the making, you have to hurry and finish the painting, as the fog eats one tree at a time, removing it from your landscape. Even so, I never had more fun doing it 🙂

painting in nature

Time flies by when you’re having fun, so I was sent home earlier than planned, because of the ‘unexpected’ sunset. The panting is still work in progress, but the amazing landscape is still very much alive, deep inside my memory.


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Kasteel de Haar – Christmas Market in Medieval Atmosphere

The largest castle in the Netherlands , situated close to Utrecht, is one of the most luxurious castles in Europe, home of many art objects and fascinating towers, suspension bridges and amazing gardens.

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Short History

The first records of the castle date back to 1391, when it was owned by De Haar family. Later on, the castle was passed to the Van Zuylen family, in 1440.

The castle had a rough life, and was burned down and destroyed almost completely, only to be rebuilt in the 1500’s. The last major work done to this fascinating construction was done in 1887 though, restoration which lasted for 20 years, in which the interior and last ruins were brought back to life, by Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt and his wife.

With  200 rooms and 30 bathrooms, the castle is quite an impressive construction. However, a very small part of it is open to the public. Even so, the beauty of the few rooms available to tourists, makes it all worth it!

The Inside

kitchenThe tour starts with the beautiful kitchen, still in very good condition, with all he original kitchen gear on display. To my surprise, all the pots were made out of copper, as a symbol of status and power, regardless of how difficult this would make the cooking and cleaning process.

In a room with an enormous cooking surface, the temperature would be around 40 degrees, all year around, and the stove would always be on, because of the difficult process of restarting the fire. Passion for cooking at a whole new level!

The rooms are decorated with ornamented woodcarvings and finished with old porcelain from Asia, and very old tapestries and paintings. The atmosphere takes you right back to the beautiful times, in which the castle was at its moment of glory.

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Gardens – The Christmas Market Central

You can’t have a castle without beautiful gardens. Kasteel de Haar is no exception from the rule, so the building is situated inside a miniature park, inspired by the French gardens of Versailles.

During the World War II, many of the gardens were lost as the trees were cut and the wood was use for fires, while the grounds were used to grow vegetables upon. At this time, the gardens are restored in their original design.

Even if the Netherlands is not big on Christmas Markets, one of the most beautiful markets are found right in the heart of De Haar gardens. From carolers, to Santa, to beautiful Christmas lights and traditional products, the market sure knows how to get you in the spirit of the winter holidays.

kasteel-de-haar-garden christmas market

The castle and its gardens are definitely worth seeing. If you add a Christmas market on top of this, Kasteel de Haar is a place you don’t want to miss!


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Sail Amsterdam 2015 – Sea Tradition in the Heart of the City

With the rich Dutch history of sailing and exploring the mysteries of sea, Amsterdam Sail is a nautical event which continues the tradition of bringing the love for sea in the heart of Amsterdam. The successful event attracts thousands of sailing ships, from all around the world, together with 2 millions sail passionate spectators.

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Taking place for the first time in 1975, on the occasion of the 700 anniversary of Amsterdam city, Amsterdam Sail was organized every 5 years, ever since. 2015 is no exception when it comes to keeping the tradition alive.

Becoming the largest public event in the world, with over 2 million people visiting the ships in only a few days, the area is not accessible by car, so the entire vicinity of the event is closed to vehicles, in order to facilitate the access of visitors.

The main attractions are definitely the tall sailing ships, both replicas and heritage ships, which gently make their way to the Ij Lake, located behind Amsterdam Centraal Station. The ships parade is probably the most beautiful sight, as you can see the ships in action, and not only stopped in the harbor.

You can board the ships taking part in the event and visit them. With the large number of curious visitors, the lines are enormous and making it on the ships takes a very long time. However, in the end, it’s worth it! Meeting the crew is obviously the best part, as they can proudly give you more information on the well kept secrets of their amazing ships. I felt honored to have such a unique opportunity!

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Part of the attraction also becomes the traffic on the water canals of Amsterdam, which slowly get packed with smaller boats, full of enthusiastic people, visiting the tall ships by water. Amazingly enough, it works perfectly, and between large ferries, tall ships and small ships, the smaller boats safely make their way to the destination.

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Sail Amsterdam is definitely a beautiful way of celebrating Amsterdam’s anniversary, a wonderful tradition kept alive by the enthusiasm of amazingly passionate people. Looking forward to see the ships return, in 2020 🙂


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Legoland – Creativity Headquarters

If you can dream it, you can build it. Lego makes it all possible, and this is why I think Lego blocks are one of the most amazing toys around. You can create your own miniature world, and make your own toys, out of what looks like to be almost nothing.

The story they don’t tell you – The illegally copied Brick

Lego is around for the longest time (since 1932) and has a very interesting story, binding an illegal patent, a lawsuit and the buying of the original manufacturing company.

The father of Lego, Ole Kirk Christiansen, is a Danish carpenter from Billund, Denmark, who started with building houses and furniture, and later wooden toys.

In the late 1940s, a British company called Kiddicraft, owned by Hilary Harry Fisher Page, began manufacturing “Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks”. When Kirk came across these bricks in a demo of an injection molding machine, he decided to improve on the building bricks and sell them under his own brand.

When deciding on a name for the company, Christiansen had to choose between “Legio” (“Legion of toys”) and “Lego”, from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”. Lego means “I put together” in Latin, so the name stayed to the product, until today.

The original inventor of the bricks died without ever finding out Kirk had copied his product illegally and 31 years later, LEGO acquired Kiddicraft when they were preparing to actually sue Tyco for illegally copying ‘their’ bricks. LEGO ended up losing the case and Tyco was allowed to continue selling the bricks.

Legoland – Imagination Land built in Lego Bricks

Situated in the same location where Kirk used to build the wooden toys decades ago, in Billund Denmark, the land of Lego changed significantly since the early 1900’s, becoming the biggest live demo of what you can do with the Lego blocks.

I’ve always been a fan of Lego, so meeting my Lego characters ‘in legoperson’ and walking around in a mini-Lego-City was the dream. Legoland seemed like to normal thing to do 🙂

legoland main entrance

Legoland is a bit of everything. You can walk around the park and feel like you’ve been around the world in a few hours, constantly switching from reality land to imagination land.

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PirateLand, Knights Kingdom, and a trip into the Wild LegoWest

As main attractions, the park is divided into themes, each one with its own rides, such as PirateLand where you can get into wild battles with the pirates or the Knights Kingdom where a beautiful Castle is taking you into a fairy tale atmosphere.

My favorite part was definitely the MiniLand, a miniature world built in Lego. I used to build my own cities, houses and infrastructure, as a child, from anything I could find around the house, so seeing them built out of Lego blocks was an amazing feeling.

Walking around, I couldn’t help but think about the people who were hired to build the MiniLand. Someone pays you to play with Lego a whole day long? That must be one of the best jobs on Earth! 🙂

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Miniature Amsterdam – Built out of Lego bricks

Another neat aspect of the MiniLand are the major landmarks of the world, built from Lego bricks. The closer to the ground you go, the more realistic they look and the more detail you see! Quite impressive!

legoland around the world

Surprisingly enough, there’s a lot of technology behind every single Lego brick. Everything you see moves and behaves like a small copy of the real object. Underneath the park there’s an entire machine guided by a software, which tells every ship, car, windmill, train, crane and any other miniature object, what to do, when and for how long.

The most dangerous part of the park are obviously the gift shops, where the shelves have automatic wallet emptying systems, for the huge Lego fans of all ages. 🙂

The Controversy – Going Commercial or Staying Traditional ?

Anyone who ever run a business knows that as a company, if you want to stay in fashion, you constantly have to reinvent yourself. With the society changing from one year to the other, so do the client’s requests, and then you face a dilemma, which is making more money or staying faithful to your product.

Lego made a lot of changes when it comes to the sets they sell. Opening an entire store for Star Wars fans inside the park, is just one proof of that happening…

What I found particularly sad was the desire to sell, anything, but not the product which made them famous in first place. Inside Legoland, you can find clothing stores, or toys stores selling silly stuffed animals, which have nothing to do with the Lego bricks.

Even sadder is the lack of thematic Lego sets on the shelves, even if they are advertised in the park, and the outrageous prices, even if they claim it’s supposed to be cheaper, as you buy them from the source. The Lego sets were replaces with clothes and stuffed animals, in most stores around the park, even if in a thematic area, they should sell the thematic sets ( in the Knights Kingdom, you should find all the medieval Lego sets, not cheap Chinese toys).

Surprising enough, even if the Lego store sells Lego by the kg, when you try to find the traditional brick of 4×2, which is their iconic brick and is advertised everywhere around the world, they simply DON’T have it! This really made me wonder about the direction in which the company is heading.

In the end is all about money, and the changes Lego made, will keep them on the market for a long time. However, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic to see all the good stuff replaces by commercial sets or items which don’t really scream Lego.


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