Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Eva Takes us on a Grand Tour

Welcome to my class of the Finishing school for Ladies. I was quite honoured when Elizabeth and Emma allowed me to be part of their finishing school project. A finishing school assumed that the basics of education and good manners were already in place. It was the task for the school however to give everything a nice sheen, a good bit of polish by adding elegant or practical accomplishments as well as a certain style.

It used to be a tradition for young men and women who could afford it to finish their education by going overseas to Europe and make a 'grand tour'. This way, they would see the picturesque places, some of the worlds wonders and get a 'continental sheen of refinement' that comes from having seen different things, and hopefully adapted the best of that to the new life they were about to begin as adults.

A wonderful description of how such a voyage could go can be found in Louise Alcott's "good wives" where Amy goes abroad to discover the old world. By design as well as necessity, a grand tour only showed some highlights of different countries, a subjective selection of what was best and beautiful.

In my 'grand tour' I will try to do the same. With only a few posts to outline Europe, clarify some subjects and introduce some interesting concepts, there is no choice but to be utterly and completely selective. My selections will of course be biased, based on what I know, what I have experienced myself and what I think would be worth while to mention.

But before we start our grand tour tomorrow, let us first stand still for a moment at the question what Europe actually is. I am always puzzled by advertisements that tell you that this or that purse is "European" style. I think from the American perspective it is almost inevitable to see the continent mostly as a counterbalance for America, one big country with different states, but still a whole. The line between identities in Europe is much stronger. Neither in Spain, nor in Belgium or Danmark will people identify themselves firstly as European (except perhaps three or four political activists). Their first identity will be to their country, with European as a big and vague, very loose binding of those nationalities. What Europe is, even the Europeans have not yet been able to define. And then I have not even mentioned the European Union, an umbrella government that is increasingly influencing decisions of national governments but that few people actually feel a bond with.

Europe is best described as a crazy quilt with many different fabrics and colours. The cultural, geographical, historical and organisational differences between countries can be mind boggling. Entire wars were fought in parts of Europe that did not affect others. Religions differ, as well as governmental organisations, monarchies as well as republics, countries with large agricultural populations and countries where less than one percent is involved in working the land.

If there is anything I would like you to remember from this introduction to the grand tour, it is that there is no "European Style". Spanish style is utterly different from Dutch style in both fashion and mentality.

A second thing I would like you to remember is never, ever, ever to believe any portrayal of Europe in a mainstream movie. I can not start to describe the smoke that came out of my eyes at watching the teenage movies: "the prince and me" in which they made a mockery of Denmark or "What a girl wants" in which they did the same with Great Brittain, not even to mention Batman returns in which two young women aparently decide to take too close an interest in a restaurants water feature. When the maitre d' informs Bruce Wayne that the fountain is not intended for swimming and that his companions are not wearing a bathing suit, he grins it off with a charming: "they are European" as if nude swimming in a restaurant fountain is as common there as bread for breakfast. I am well aware that those movies are not intended as educational material, but for people who rarely get the chance to travel, it leaves an impression which is hard to get rid of, of a continent that balances between pompous and hedonistic.

I hope that this 'grand tour' will leave you with a different impression of Europe, an incredibly diverse continent with great sides and less great sides and one that has a lot to offer in history, art, mentality, and daily life solutions.

Until tomorrow, there is no homework!

Be loved and blessed and till then!


Eva Takes us to Belgium:

When starting the Grand Tour in Belgium, I am doing something that makes sense in more ways than one, and still would not be very common for a Belgian to do. Belgians unfortunately take too little pride in their own country, chosing to focus on the negative and considering themselves too small to be of notice. This attitude however denies many of our guests the discovery of one of the pearls in Europe's crown.

If you were to fly to Brussels, capital of Belgium, you would actually see posters welcoming you in 'the heart of Europe', and Belgium is that in more ways than one. That is why starting here makes sense. Belgium is not just at the center of Europe, but also the place where the European government seats. Above that, it is a crossroad of many of the European cultures and styles and therefor can give guests a bit of a taste of everything.

So... welcome to Belgium, my homeland! Make yourself comfortable, because this might be a long post!

What is important to know about Belgium? I could of course surround you with facts here. There are so many for such a small country, because Belgium IS small. It is about the size of Maryland, and despite that fact it has more governments to steer this one country than the US has, not to mention the mount of actively participating political parties....

The reasons for that are historic and strongly related to what I said earlier: Belgium finds itsself at the crossroad of many European cultures. This is most reflected in the languages. Belgium has no less than three official languages: Dutch, French, and German, and groups of the different language communities do not always get along, not just because the language, but also because the different regions have developed historically different. Unfortunately, if I delved into Belgian politics, I would need at least ten blogposts for that topic alone. Instead, I will give you the basics:

Belgium is federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Wow! That is a mouthful isn't it? What it means is that the Belgian government is elected by the people, based on the constitution. There is a monarchy, but the powers of the king are mainly symbolic. He is a unifying figure who must be above party politics, but does sign laws into power, though he does not have veto powers over those laws. The fact that Belgian, after consitutional reforms in the seventies is a federal state means that different parts of Belgium have autonomy of decision on certain terrains. The current King of Belgium is named Albert II. He followed after the death of his brother Boudewijn I and will be normally succeeded by his son Philip I.

But... you did not come to Belgium just to hear a lesson about politics. In fact, you don't even exactly know where Belgium is. This map will give you an idea. Belgium is the small, yellow triangular country across from England, and in between France, Germany, Luxembourgh and the Netherlands. Now... why would you come here for your Grand Tour, aside from the convenient location in the middle of more famous destinations? Three good reasons: art, history and food.

To the surprise of many, Belgium is a very young country. It actually is younger than the United States, having become independent from the Netherlands in 1830 and with the first King (Leopold I, imported from Germany) swearing the oath on the 21st of July in 1831. However, it is hard to find a richer history anywhere in Europe for the regions that have formed the current Belgium. Sometimes it is named the battlefield of Europe, and since Roman times, each conquering army has tried to get the rich regions under it's thumb. The current Belgium has belonged to Rome, fighting tribes, France, Austria, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany... and each of those conquerors have not only failed to keep it, but also have left behind a bit of their style, their culture, and their influence. You have probably heard of the battle of Waterloo against Napolean. The Siege of the Yser in the first world war, and the battle of Bastogne in the second. Less known are the medieval battle of the Golden Spurs, or the early seventeenth century Battle of Sluis.

If you wish to read more about the history of Belgium, I can recommend this page for a quick overview:

Coming to Belgium means being surounded by this ancient History. Belgians in general have a long memory, even if it is stuck under layers of daily life enjoyment. It is less openly celebrated than in many other countries and there certainly is less of a patriotic feeling, but if you look around you, you will see the plaques remembering the fallen, the statues from heroes of 1302.

It will also mean seeing the known art cities of Flanders: Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges. The beautiful capital of Brussels with it's City Hall build in 1402, and the houses of the guilds surounding the Grand Place square. Antwerp with the most beautiful Cathedral in the world, as those of Antwerp claim, (It has the less notable distinction of being the place where I married.)the house of Rubens, the river Schelde, the unique atmosphere of modern and medieval mingling. Ghent, with the beautiful bellfry, the clothhall and the cathedral and last but certainly not least Brughes, once called: the Venice of the North, with its tiny medieval streets were you can easily imagine the way life used to be.

Belgium is more than Flanders. In Wallonia we find the three beautiful cities of Liege, Tournai and Namur with its famous citadel. Or what to think of the many castles, with the castle of Modave as one of my all time favourites both for it's looks as for the wonderful way they interior tells of it's history. You might be surprised by the connections with the famous French Palace of Versailles. It in itsself is worth a visit, not to speak of the surrounding countryside with the smallest city in the world Durbuy.

For more views of this beautiful castle, have a look at this page:

This post has gone on so long, but there is so much to tell about this tiny country. What about the wonderful art that was created, some say, because of the beautiful light Belgium offers. World famous artists like Rubens, Van Dijck, Magritte have lived and worked here. There were Brussels famous tapestry ateliers. Adolphe Sax, who developed the saxophone was Belgian. The Art Deco architect Horta was Belgian, as was Herge, the author of the comic Tintin. What about the intricate lace for which Belgium is famous and that in some ateliers or homes still is handmade day by day, Antwerp diamond jewelry or the famous Belgian fashion designers.


And we haven't even talked about the food. Of course you know that Belgium is famous for it's chocolates, and perhaps you have heard about the beer. By now you will realise that Brussels sprouts come from Belgium, named after the region around the capital. Brussels andives are delicious and we can't even start on regional specialities like Brussels waffles, Liege waffles, smoked Ardennes ham, or the witte pens, a soft white sausage that is delicious to eat with apple sauce. If you want to try some of the Belgian cuisine, these are a few recipes that I can claim to be true regional specialities:

Waterzooi (a creamy chicken dish):
Konijn met pruimen (Rabit with prune sauce):
Wortelstoemp (carrot and potato mash): (for a variation with leeks see: )
Balletjes (Belgian meatballs):
Stoofvlees (Flemmish Carbonade): or
Wafels (Brussels Waffles):
Croque madame (grilled cheese sandwich with egg): (croque monsieur is the same, but without an egg, and croque hawaii adds a slice of pineaple with the ham and cheese)
Pannekoeken (Belgian Pancakes):
Witloof in de oven (chicory with cheese in the oven):
Mosselen (mussels); (one of the easiest seafood recipes you'll find)
Rijstpap (riz au lait) (a cheap and great desert)
Frieten (Belgian fries): (these twice baked fries will be the best you ever tried. My mother taught me that you know when they are finished for the first time baking when they 'sing'. This is a nice step by step version with more details:

Look at this page for some photographs and more comments on some of the recipes:

And then there is the mentality of the Belgians, who do not take themselves too serious. Who are surrounded daily by history, from the biggest art cities, to the small parish churches that can date back more than a thousand years. Who have made an enjoyment of life into an art form in the small daily rituals. Belgians eat much more as one family at the dinner table. Most households have only one television, and people watch together, or don't watch. Going to the market on saturday for fresh vegetables, fruit and regional specialities is something that even urbanites apreciate and is just part of the fabric of daily life in the smaller villages. Small villages as well as big cities still have the specialised shops: butcher, baker, milk and cheese, where the products are much more varied than in any supermarket. And food is a serious matter. Of course you will encounter the local or international fast food restaurants, but they are never considered a place to actually have dinner. Going out to eat is done less frequently than it is in the US, but when it is done, it is taken seriously. A meal is supposed to take time, and no waiter worth his salt is going to just put the check on your table when you are finishing up. I remember a funny incident during my courtship when my now-husband and I sat waiting for a long time after dinner at a restaurant. After a while I asked if he didn't think it was time we would go. He agreed but said: "well, we haven't gotten the check yet." "of course not." I explained, "We have not asked for it yet." After all, putting the check on your table would be tantamount to telling you they want you to leave and that would be considered most rude in Belgium, where especially in restaurants and smaller shops, the service will show you that the customer is still king, a leasurely king at that, because the pace of life in general is much, much slower.

By now I have shown you some of Belgians history, some of it's art treasures, allowed you to virtually taste some of it's food, and allowed a tiny glimps into the Belgian lifestyle. It is time we conclude our trip to Belgium with a few final thoughts:

To Remember:

I would like you to remember the following things about Belgium:

- Belgium is about the size of Maryland and can be found in the center of Europe, across from England
- Though it has a king (Albert I), it is a parlimentary democracy, and has three official languages: Dutch, French and
German (although most people also speak a bit of English)
- Because they have been conquered by just about anyone, Belgians do not take themselves or their country too serious.
- Three famous Belgian artists are Rubens, Van Dyck and Magritte
- Belgian food is rich and delicious


Now... a homework assignment! I will give several assingments and let you pick one. Please let me know in a note if you have done one and what your thoughts were.

Practical assignment:

- Prepare one of the Belgian recipes for your family (the fries or croque madame are particularly easy, as are the stoemp or pannekoeken). Do not forget to eat it together as a family! You don't need the good china, but a nicely made table with a cheery cloth will definitely get you in the mood.

Research assignment:

- Do an internet search and read more about any one of the following topics (I know, I've given you a lot to read already):

Waterloo, Flanders, Battle of the golden spurs, Rubens, Van Dyck, Antwerpen, Ghent, Bruges, Ardennes, Bastogne, Ypres, Yser, Belgian monarchy, Belgian fashion, Antwerp Diamond or Belgian tapestry

Easy assignment:

- Mention three facts about Belgium to someone else in the next few days. And do not forget to tell me how they reacted to your new found wisdom! *W*

Well, that was finally it... until tomorrow when we visit France, I will leave you to your day! I hope you've enjoyed it and I will most definitely try to keep the next lesson a lot shorter! We have a saying in Dutch: "waar het hart van vol is, loopt de mond van over: (What fills the heart, spills out of the mouth)

May you have a wonderful day. I will leave you with a few last pictures of my wedding in Antwerp!


Eva Takes us to France!

France is a bigger country, so I should have more to say, but of course, this is not my homecountry, so the emotional urge to just say everything is less. And of course Elizabeth has already done an entire week on France, teaching you so much, what is there left for me to say?

Still... France is a beautiful country, and one of the more known countries of Europe. Too bad it has such a bad reputation in the US. Maybe you have heard the joke: "How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris?" Answer: "Who knows? They have never tried." Jokes like that always make me want to leap to the defense of France by reminding people that France, especially Louis XVI delivered funds and troops to the American revolution, or that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people. Of course I know it is more complex than that. But the instinctive dislike between the US and France is something that often bothers me because I love both. My husband claims the dislike is normal since both the US and France are very patriotic and therefor are always trying to best eachother. Too much alike. I am hoping that like Elizabeth, I can give you a little taste of France to make your mouth water and imagine your visit.

First, let us start with the map again. Where is France? France is easy to find since it is one of the bigger countries in Europe. If you see the pink English isle, you go down and find France in green. If you have very good eyes, you may even see the stip that is showing you Paris.
Now how did modern day France come into being? From Gaul tribes, Roman conquest, German tribes (the Franks, hence the name France) and finally a strong monarchy, it took a few centuries for France to took shape as a country instead of a bunch of small kingdoms. Still, it was formed much earlier than for example Belgium. Some people look at 498,(with the conversion of Clovis) as the 'forming date' of France, but most Historians chose the treaty of Verdun in 843 when Charlemaignes Empire was divided in East Francia, Middle Francia and Western Francia, with Western Francia being about the size of modern day France.

I would love to give you a complete history of France here, but if I even started doing that, I would need to write a book, not a post. A rather short birds eye overview of French history that will give you an introduction without making you spend two hours reading can be found in wikipedia:

The overview however does not go into the compicated relationship between the French and the English, from the eleventh and twelfth century on. The very short and long of it is that from then on, both English and French claimed, with various degrees of validity to have a right to eachothers throne or pieces of land.

Like a good guide, let me alert you to a freebie during this visit: You can download a free e-book with the short history of France here: (If you haven't heard from it, read up on project Gutennberg, it is one of the wonders of the internet!). Bear in mind that 'short' is a relative term and that the book goes well over 200 pages. I have not reviewed this book, so I can not attest to the quality, but usually the books in project Gutenberg at least do not have any weird theories in them.

At the moment, France is battling quite a few problems politically. They've had a lot of immigrants in the last hundred years, and have not dealt well with integrating them into society. Therefor racial tensions are high. The contrast between traditional living and modern ideas also has a high impact, as well as a history of labour policies that now are catching up with them. Add to that that French are hottempered, and you have a situation that can get quite tense. France is a semi presidential republic. Both the president and the prime minister are considered leaders of the government. Both are democratically elected.

So far for Frances history and politics, barely scratching the surface. Now let us move on to one of my favourite topics: French art. Whatever your ideas of the French, few will deny the greatness of their artists. From the anonymous or known Cathedral builders, to their world famous painters, or the writers that even today are being read. I wish we had the time to also go in to the topic of science, but alas we can simply not do everything. Let it just be said that France has produced some of the most innovative scientific minds throughout the century. Think of Pierre and Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur, Louis Braille...

But... we were going to French art instead. I wish I could take you on a tour through France in reality, so you could see the mighty cathedrals. There are few countries where you see so many of the different building styles still fully present. In the next series of pictures, I will give you a short overview of some of the most famous buildings in their style: Roman, Gothic, baroque, neoclassicims and art nouveau.

(well, aparently, a technical glitch in my blog does not allow me to download these pictures at this time. I will try again later in the series, for now, a google image search on any of these terms should give you magnificent results. Come looking back later, for the photos)

Aside from the architecture, there are of course the painters. Van Gogh, Monet, Coret, Gauguin, Van Loo, Renoir.... how can I show you all? How can I express the way the artists explored techniques and tried to capture a transcendent beauty on canvas. You probably have a favorite picture of each of these artists in front of your eyes before I speak. I would have loved to show you two of my favourites, but again, the evil blog does not let me.

Since we can not seem to add more visuals today, let's speak of writers. From Moliere to Hugo to Corneille, from the chanson de roland (of which the medieval author can never be ascerted with certainty), from Madame de Lafayette to Rousseau or the poetry writers Villon, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and other less known authors, each of them had a unique talent, and a way to use their words as a paintbrush, clothing their subject or unclothing it with a skill and drama that few others have ever managed. Each one is worth a read. How about this one by Paul Verlaine?

Autumn Song

Long sobbing winds,
The violins
of autumn drone.
Wounding my heart,
With languorous smart,
in monotone.

Choking and pale,
When on the gale
the hour sounds deep,
I call to mind
Dead years behind
and I weep.

And I, going,
Borne by blowing
winds and grief,
Flutter, here--there,
As on the air
the dying leaf.

How about that for one of those melancholy autumn days that come and go, when the most wonderful thing to do can be to stare out of the window at the floating leaves with a cup of tea in your hands? Or one of the most beautiful books for children ever written in French in my opinion: Le petit prince (the little prince). You will never regret having read this story: Http:// if you do not know it already, and my favourite quote from it: "Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye."

We've looked at French history, French art, and there are two things I still wish to touch upon in our little tour that was derailed slightly by the frustrating malfunction of this blog regarding pictures all of a sudden: the French way of life and French cuisine.

The French way of life is something many Americans are deeply interested in and again there is a duality here between admiration and distrust. Elizabeth again has done a wonderful job in explaining many of the cultural differences in her posts on France:

As you can imagine after my previous little chapter on art, beauty plays an enormous part in the daily French life, perhaps even more so than practicality. One of the reasons could be that France has been established as a country so early. While of course daily life still was hard working and difficult it did not need to be established like it did in a newer country like the US. Therefor changes came slower, and with slower changes came more time to perfect things, wether it was the inside of a house, the embroidery on a piece of linnen or the way a table was set or a meal taken. The pace of life in France is slower, and while they are certainly more hotheaded than the Belgians, in general they are people who prefer their daily life to go uninterrupted by conflicts and display a remarkable joy de vivre.

Even in France, you can see great cultural differences between the provinces of for example the provence, normandie and Bretagne. The climate difference makes for a different way of living. Bretagne being harsher and less... ornamented so to speak than the provence which bades in warm sunshine and normandie in between. Think of the way of life in Maryland and South Carolina, and you have a good idea of how different these lives can be. Paris, being a big metropolis, is a story in itsself. Even in France parisians have the reputation to be rude. You could say that Paris has the same reputation in France as New York had in the US before 9/11. I remember being warned by American friends when I went to NY about the rudeness and deceit I would encounter. (Incidentily, I had a wonderful few days and met great courteousness there, so things may have changed).

Despite those differences, you can say that the French have made joie de vivre (enjoying life) into an art form. If you have to be dressed, why not have something with a stylish drape? If you have to have a tablecloth, why not have something that pleases you whenever you look at it. The French chose to have less (and often MUCH less) but to select a better quality. Why should one buy or have something if it does not please the senses? That is why they dirve their little bycicles with a fresh baked baguette (they are baked fresh several times a day in good bakeries) and a bouquet of flowers. A French breakfast exists only of a few croissants, maybe a roll, and some jam and some coffee or chocolat. A far cry from the big English or American breakfasts, but the quality of each of the ingredients is tantamount, and there should be fresh flowers on the table with a nice cloth and some pleasing day to day china.

French women are smart in knowing that they can not do or have it all. There is no shame in going to a bakery to buy a small but intricate desert, so that you can spend your time on a wonderful and satisfying meal to come before. Entertaining does not mean 'going all out', but surounding yourself with friends that please you and pleasing those friends, in your words and presence as well as your food. No French hostess would ever spend her entire time in the kitchen. That would mean she would be failing in her job of pleasing and being plased.

And there we are at our last topic of the day: French Food. French food is again very diverse, it depends on the region and the cook how things turn out. I will here give the links to a few classics for you to try or to be inspired by. Some will be old familiars already, because the reputation for the French cuisine is worldwide known;

- French onion soup:
- French Toast:
- Madeleines (these little cakes are absolutely delicious.)
- coq au vin: (the sauce with this can inspire you to make a typically French hunting sauce that is also great with roast beef and other red meats)
- Crepes:
- Croissants; (this recipe takes some work, but the results are sooo delicious)
- Consomme:
- (typically French, healthy, and oh so delicious, make this a staple in your kitchen)
- Garlic soup (great for autumn and winter)
- Cabbage soup: (French peasant soup that is very flavourful and healthy)
- Roast lamb: (I took this recipe, but really, come spring, every village has it's favourite way to do this)
- Frenche Apple pie (tarte tatin): (really yummy)
- French Casserole: (lots of beans in this recipe. Instead of Kielabassa, use any smoked sausage)
- Grand Marnier Souffle; (delicate and delicious)
- Lavender pancakes (this recipe is not a French classic, but the use of lavender IS, so I wanted to leave you with something special)
- chicken breasts, French style: (boursin or other herb goat cheese is a staple in France. Try this one, truely worth it.
- Stuffed vegetables: (a typical provencal dish. Great as a side dish with steak)
- Boeuf Bourguignon: (a classic)
- French Fish soup (Bouillabaisse)
- gratined potatoes (dauphinois)

There... are you hungry now? For more French recipes just google French Food or French recipes at You will see that site appear more often here. With this unfortunately, we come to the end of our little tour. Despite my best intentions, it has again become rather long. Tomorrow, we will visit the Netherlands.

What would I like you to remember for today?

- Most historians consider 843 as starting point for France when Charlemaignes empire was divided.
- The French helped the Americans in the revolution against the Brittish.
- Three famous French painters are Monet, Degas and Renoir
- Three famous French writers are Victor Hugo, Moliere and the poet Verlaine.
- the French make joie de vivre (enjoyment of life) into a true art
- French cuisine is rich and delicious.


Again, I will post several assignments, and you pick out your favourite>

Research assignment:

Do an internet search on any of the following:
Verdun, Charlemagne, Clovis, Charles V, Victor Hugo, Moliere, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Degas, Renoir, Van Loo, Provence, Normandie, eighty year war, hundred year war, French Resistance, Notre Dame de Paris, La Madeleine, Charles de Gaule...

Practical assignment:

- Make one of the dishes that you find in the recipe section for your family
- Think a few moments and try to set the table as atractive as possible, using lots of colour
- Invite someone over and give hospitality French style, center the evening around eating small but delicious food that you made in advance and talkt he night away

Easy assignment:

- Mention three facts you have learned about France to someone you know in the next week.

Don't forget to tell me your results!! I know it's a bit of a bother to be setting up to comment here, but I would love to hear if you have tried any of the assignments.

Be loved and blessed, and till tomorrow in the Netherlands,


No Lady's education would be complete without taking a Grand Tour of Europe: Eva, who is from Belgium, is our travel Guide --

Goodafternoon everyone!

Today our Grand Tour finds us in the Netherlands. Now if ever there was a country that has a worse reputation than it deserves in the US, it is the Netherlands. I've studied for four and a half years at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and I can say from personal experience that it is an absolute lovely country.
There is much more to the Netherlands than windmills, wooden shoes and tulips, although those last are certainly spectacular and more than worthy of all the praise they get. The tulip fields in Keukenhof are a special treat, not just a tourist trap, and the Dutch themselves enjoy touring them.
But... we will not just focus on those lovely flowers, no matter if I could devote an entire post to them.

Welcome to the Netherlands!

Let me first adress a few of the points of the Netherlands that have given it such a bad reputation as an extremely 'liberal' country. I dislike that word immensely by the way, since it has become such a containerword, an insult devoid of meaning or a credo devoid of contents. Nobody knows exactly what is known by liberal. Still... when I hear about the Netherlands, all I hear is about prostitution, drugs, euthanasia, and other controversial subjects. I won't pretend these topics and what you have heard about them are all untrue. What is untrue though is that they are uncontroversial in the Netherlands, or that they portray the Netherlands as a whole.
Currently the Dutch (the inhabitants of the Netherlands) are actually going through something of an identity crisis. Tolerance has for years been the credo of the Dutch. This meant that you could be as liberal, but also as conservative as you want. I remember that, when I graduated, each of the students got a personalised speech by thier promoting professor. Mine talked, aside from my academic achievements about my personality, and about my faith and the way I had to make people look at another side of things.
Being an exception, either conservative or liberal, was not just tolerated but respected, as long as you were not obnoxious about it. This tolerance also led to an acceptance of immigrants and a great respect for their individual traditions and ways of life. But now they are finding out that some of those traditions and ways of life do not respect their tolerance, and it is creating tensions.

But... let us add a bit more factual information about the Netherlands. First of all... where are they? Well... you see the big green France, then the tiny yellow Belgian triangle, and right above that the beige Netherlands. At least, that is the European part of the Netherlands that we will focus on today. The Netherlands also have teritory overseas, namely Aruba and the Dutch Antilles. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Beatrix leading the country in a slightly more active fashion than the Belgian King, but still having to abide by the rules of a democraticly chosen government. Although Amsterdam is the most famous Dutch city (something that rival Rotterdam does not like to admit) the capital of the Netherlands is Den Haag (the Hague)

The Netherlands and Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) have a closely interwoven history. Until the sixteenth century they were called the Northern Netherlands (the current Netherlands) and the Southern Netherlands. (Flanders), and they were considered one. Like Flanders, the Netherlands boasted cities of enormous economical influence in medieval times. The great merchant history of Europe took shape here, and though there was a strict competition between the cities there was no special division between the regions. That division started in the 15th and 16th century with the religious tensions that plagued Europe and the harsh wars between protestants and Catholics. Religion mostly was state regulated and it depended on the whim of the ruler how much freedom was given to the individual conscience.
In the current Netherlands, the protestant faith had enormous following and when in the sixteenth century Philips II of Spain tried to cut down the 'new faith' and instill uniform Catholicism in his realm, the northern provinces reared up and a fiercely fought war of independence raged for nearly a century, but in the seventeenth century Spain recognised the independence of the Dutch. Unfortunately in the religious tensions of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, a lot of magnificent artwork was lost in the iconoclast against religious imagery. In that same eventful seventeenth century the Dutch started the colonisation of Indonesia, and became in a few years a merchant world power. This of course led to wars with those other world powers: France and England.
Like the Southern Netherlands though, in the early 19th century Napoleon incorporated the Netherlands in his expansion wars, but as everyone knows his succes was shortlived and the kingdom of the Netherlands was quickly restored. For a short time, the current Belgium was added to the Netherlands, but the Dutch king had not learned much of the mistakes that Philips II made centuries ago. While he was much more civilised on it, he proclaimed several measures that curtailed the rights of Catholics and tried to stamp out the French language where it was native in his new teritory. This led to a revolt very shortly after and since then the two countries are separated and yet tightly linked through a same language.

For more on the history of the Netherlands, and other factual information, I would like to refer to this link:

Another thing you will find more information on on that page are the famous Dutch waterworks. The Dutch and water have always been a special combination. They are famous sea farers since centuries and have lately made enormous contributions in the ecological cause for water winning and water preservation. No wonder that they know water so well, they have been battling it for ages. While they have been building dykes and winning land on the sea for centuries, the biggest projects however were started after the disasterous floodings of the year 1953 in which many lives were lost. Despite concerns about the environmental inpact of the project, it was started and completed. To give you an idea about how impressive this project is: one sluice gate weighs about as much as two Eiffel towers....

The Dutch are, in particular, a practical lot. They have, since medieval times, a merchant mentality. And, though they are more patriotic than the Belgians (but then just about everyone is) they can laugh with themselves. If you would like to read an excellent, quirky review of the Dutch comical and interesting habits, see if you can find the book: The Undutchables. A testimony of the fact that the Dutch do not take themselves too serious is that the books is enormously popular in the Netherlands. In fact, that is where I read it. They like to joke. There are very few taboo topics in the Netherlands, which is why it made such headlines recently, when a man was actually fined for insulting the queen to a police officer. Immediately journalists and other defenders of free speech started to jump into the breech and worrying about censorship. Still... it is harder for the Queen and her children to file private lawsuits to settle these things than it is for other citizens, so I wonder how this latest debate will be settled.


Although it has less of a reputation for it in the US, the Netherlands are a country of art lovers! There are few countries where creativity is so apreciated and stimulated as in the Netherlands. Crafts are especially popular, but from spinning and weaving to avant garde theatre, everything has a place and is given an intricate value. This should be no surprise as, with the riches of the developing trade, came a great wealth which was devoted to beautification of houses and buildings through the arts.

This has given a chance for such famous painters as Rembrandt, Vermeer, or later Mondriaan and illustrationists like the world famous Escher. Literature became very important later with writers like Vondel and Hooft. Writing was popular, even for those who were not or not yet writers, think of the world famous diary of Anne Frank. A special place should be made here to mention authors of childrens books. The Dutch have a marvelous tradition of childrens books which really should be translated in every language in the world. Annie M.G. Schmidt and her irreverent stories and rhymes being perhaps the most famous, but certainly such great writers as Thea Beckman, Evert Hartman and Jan Terlouw should not be forgotten.

The Dutch like their arts and their artists. They go to the theater often, either to see professionals or amateurs, there always is a wealth of new musicians and genres going from medieval ensembles to avant garde fusion music and everything in between. Few people look down on what is considered 'popular culture'. Beign highbrow is not really considered a virtue here. While people apreciate it if you have culture, they most definitely do not apreciate a snobish attitude. Their response to that would be: "doe maar gewoon, dat is al gek genoeg" or basically :"just act normal, that is crazy enough."

That last is typically Dutch. While they are fierce talkers and the victim of quite a bit of stereotyping from the Belgians (from loudmouthed braggards to notorious pinchpennies) they like living their life the way they chose to. Home, family and friends are very important to them. One of their highest compliments to a gathering can be that it is "zo gezellig", an expression that is hard to translate, but would probably best be aproached by 'so cozy'. To impress however hos difficult this word is to translate and how many connotations it can have, I invite you to check this link:

Impressive isn't it? How much can be conveyed by a single word? The Dutch however are amongst the champions of homey coziness, and they do it with simple means. Flowers, a cup of tea, a cookie, and a good chat. Hospitality for them need not be complicated. They don't like to show off, but have more a 'come as you are' attitude that would resonate well with the American hospitality.

Dutch food is more simple and could be considered a bit plain compared to the French or Belgian cuisine with its rich sauces, but when prepared well, it is both wholesome and tasty, and very much it's own style, and especially their pastry is SO good. Before I go to the recipes, I want to have a quick mention of what many consider a fun Dutch quirk in it's fast food tradition: the automaton. In small villages and large cities alike, you will easily find a snackbar and aside from it an automaton, with tiny doors where you can put in a coin and get an unhealthy but warm and delicious snack in return. However, let me see if I can not tempt your tastebuds with some other Dutch specialities:

Moorkoppen (Dutch pastry): (rich and delicious)
Boterkoek (buttercake):
Advocaat (eggnog)
Banket letters (Pastry letters) (this IS timeconsuming, and most Dutch will just buy it at the bakery. It is a traditional food for Saint Nicholas day)
Dutch Baby (breakfast recipe):
Dutch Asparagus: (This recipe is simple and delicious.)
Bitterballen (ragout snack) (this ultimate dutch snack may be a bit of work to prepare, but it will be popular with everybody! The same filling can also be used for croquettes)
Oliebollen (Dutch Beignets) (traditional at new years, but also at fairs. VERY good)
Preisoep (Dutch leek soup) (savoury and great)
Snert (Dutch pea soup)
Bruine bonen soep (Brown bean soup):
Rode kool (red cabbage) ( agreat favourite with children, though I remember my mom sometimes adding apples to the recipe)
Slavinken (A different way to prepare ground beef)
Uitsmijter (an easy grilled cheese snack)
Hutspot (mash) (this is the ultimate winterfood! Especially with smoked sausage or ham)

Well, with the recipes... here we are at the end again. I hope you enjoyed our short visit to the Netherlands. As always, there is much more to tell... but not enough room.

What I want you to remember of todays visit:

- The Netherlands are not just a nation where everything is allowed.
- The Dutch were one of the greatest merchant nations of the world in the renaissance.
- The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, and the current queens name is Beatrix.
- The Dutch are specialist on water.
- The Dutch do not like a snobish atitude, they like life normal and simple.
- Three Famous Dutch painters are: Rembrandt, Vermeer and Mondriaan.
- The Dutch put a great value on tolerance.

So... with that, we go to our homework. Thank you Elizabeth, for handing in yours. *G* And don't worry, I know the feeling. There are more than enough people who do not want to hear anymore about Belgium by now. *W*


Research assignment:

Do an internet search on:

Deltawerken, Queen Beatrix, Union of Utrecht, Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt, Dutch colonies, tulips, Dutch East India Company, Vermeer, Kampen, Saint Nicholas, speculaas, the Hague, Annie M.G. Schmidt

or locate and read the book: The Undutchables or Max Havelaar

Practical assignment:

-Make one of the Dutch recipes from this blog for your friends and family. Both the pea soup and the Uitsmijter, as well as the Dutch baby are quite easy, and you probably have the ingredients on hand.
- OR: offer hospitality Dutch style. Ask a friend or neighbour over for coffee. No need to exhaust yourself: just the two of you at the kitchen table with some cookies (can very well be storebought) and coffee will do.

Easy assignment:

- Tell someone you know three facts that you now know about the Netherlands.

Until tomorrow! I hope you are enjoying our tour!
Be loved and blessed,