Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Three favourite places

The Netherlands is a small country. Compared even to the UK it is tiny, with a population only twice the size of the Greater London area. For all that, it takes quite a time to travel from the north to the south even though its most distant extremes (Groningen and Maastricht for example) are a mere 270 kilometres apart (that's about 168 miles). I don't tend to go further north than Amsterdam very often, but would love to take my barge to the north east. It is lovely there on the German border. My own stamping grounds generally revolve around three places: Amsterdam, Rotterdam and a very small place called Westdorpe, not far from Ghent in Belgium. Each of these places is special to me, not only because I know them so well.

I have lived in Rotterdam since I came to the Netherlands and have grown to love it. It is a true port and its magnificent rivers - both the Old and the New Maas are the two major arteries that supply the lifeblood to Europe's hinterland. The rivers are always busy with cargo traffic, cruise ships and tankers, and Rotterdam's modern architecture soars up and around these veins of the city with almost defiant pride - rather like its people. The thing is, Rotterdam is not actually a big place. True, it has the largest port in Europe, but the city itself only has a population of between six and seven hundred thousand. Small fry for a small place in a small country. It is an exciting city, though. It is lively, pulsating with business activity and an eclectic social mix. It combines old and new in a curiously satisfactory blend, and the Oude Haven, which has been my home all these years, is an almost unique monument to the Dutch waterways - a historical floating village in a modern twenty first century metropolis.

This video is one I made several years ago from fragments I filmed with my camera while walking along the Maas Boulevard in Rotterdam. It reflects something of the importance of this waterway.

Then, there's Amsterdam - the charming, traditional face of the Netherlands. Arty, learned, decadent, and slightly cynical in its attitude, especially towards Rotterdam. The rivalry between the two cities sometimes reaches ridiculous levels of animosity. Still, I love my visits there. I generally go every couple of months as I teach a course for the university in Amsterdam. It is mostly conducted online but I do go and give the first and last sessions face-to-face. Normally, I take the train from Rotterdam and the metro to the university quarter. Then I walk along the grachten to reach whichever building I'm teaching in. I always enjoy being there. It has a completely different atmosphere and I can almost feel the intellectual level rising as I stroll along the canals. These photos give a glimpse of some of Amsterdam's corners I find particularly appealing.


Houseboats in Amsterdam

Traditional Oma bicyle against a traditional Amsterdammer
 Then finally, there is Westdorpe, my escape from the frenetic bustle of city life. A country girl is really what I am. I seem to have been destined to spend most of my life in the city, but the stretch of  the open landscape is essential to my sanity and I need my weekly fix of good earth and agri-sniffs. All the same, it must not be far from the waterside wherever I am, and Westdorpe is within spitting distance of the great Gent-Terneuzen sea canal. As I've mentioned before, I can see the ships from my bedroom window at my country hideout. The photos below show something more of its grandeur and appeal.

Heading towards Terneuzen and the sea

A side harbour close to Westdorpe

An every day sight on the canal
So there you have it. Three places, three characters and three reasons for their hold on my affection. You know I often think of sailing away to France, and maybe one day that will happen. But if it does, it will not be without regret for the lowlands that have been my home since leaving South Africa. Maybe you can see why.


  1. A lovely post Val. I have taken the train a few times from Le Havre to Groningen and that is a great trip. I must admit to liking Northern Holland (but then you know that I am too happier in the country) but I also love the vibrancy of Rotterdam and Amsterdam because it is different to what i am used to. Same here though, I love living in Tollesbury, but a trip to London is always exciting xxx

  2. Lovely pictures, Val - and I so agree about Amsterdam, it's a lovely city.

    As you know, I'm very rooted in beautiful Wiltshire, but the world is full of wonderful places - I'm impressed you've managed to narrow this down to three!

  3. Thank you, Fran. I never knew you had spent so much time over here! I would so love to come to Tollesbury. It looks marvellous on the map.

    Jo, thank you! I'm glad to hear you like Amsterdam too. I should say these three are only because I am so familiar with them. And as I said, Holland is very small :-) I would like to spend more time in some of the other parts of NL, but haven't had the opportunity yet. I tend to get fond of places I can get to know well!

  4. What a lovely place!! I envy you your bargey life!! And your ability to take great pics!

  5. Thank you, dear Carol! I am not much of a photographer, but I like doing it, especially when water and boats are involved xx

  6. I just love these pictures! I went to Amsterdam ..... 30 years ago, and went on the canals in a barge, loved it! Expect very different now xx

  7. Terry! How lovely of you to stop by and comment. I'm so glad you like the pictures! Amsterdam is a lovely place. Just a little too touristy most of the time.

  8. Lovely Val. Ive only been to Amsterdam we loved it but it poured all weekend and this was in July,a bit like it is here now. We actually had to buy rain jackets it was so wet, we really will have to go back again.


Apologies for switching on comment moderation, but this is to make sure everyone can comment without jumping through captcha hoops!

However, anonymous comments will not be published, so please would you sign your name. Even if you leave a nice, relevant comment, I won't publish it without a name.