On this episode you'll find out about dozens of surprising things to enjoy on a trip to The Netherlands (and why it's often called "Holland"). Renske Green-Lute is a self-described "Dutch fanatic" who lives near Amsterdam. She shares inside info all about this mostly flat little European country: a fun mix of historic past, delightful present, and sustainable future.
Lea and Renske talk about museums and Keukenhof Gardens, cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and all the classic sights and sites. But also, among many other things -- star-shaped fortresses, oyster gathering on mud flats, "Gouda by Candlelight, overnighting in an Airstream, a 15th century church in an Amsterdam canal house, gooey things to eat, Delta Works (which save the country from being underwater), a hilly Dutch city, and many more discoveries.
And, The Floriade, a once-every-10 year horticultural expo held near Amsterdam, whose theme this year is "Growing Green Cities." (Find out more about this fun, informative celebration of all things green which runs until October 9, 2022, at https://floriade.com/en/ )
Renske ends with a special memory about her grandfather, and what he had to do with saving one of Holland's greatest treasures. (It involves Rembrandt.)
Renske Green-Lute, describes herself as “a Dutch fanatic.” And she’s thoroughly explored the cities and sights of her beautiful country. Renske lives with her American partner and 6 year old daughter in the north west of Holland, where she runs a small B&B. She’s a marketer, and has been responsible for airline marketing at Schiphol Airport outside of Amsterdam.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to many guidebooks.
Contact Lea @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.com.
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* Transcript edited for clarity.
Lea Lane 00:04
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world.
When you think about Holland, you may think of tulips, windmills, cheese and Amsterdam. But on this episode of Places I Remember we're going to dig deeper and introduce you to sights and delights you might not know about. In this little country on the North Sea. That's mostly as flat as a Dutch pancake. For example, the Dutch provinces a freeze land and Zealand are wonderful for cycling tours. Discover art by Vincent Van Gogh and other Dutch masters. Dranzer boasts prehistoric remains. And if the weather turns cold enough, you can skate on natural ice to 11 Friesian cities, countless nature parks, each with its own character offer up wonderful landscapes. The Netherlands also boasts a long coastline with beautiful beaches. And this year, there's the Floriana, once in a 10 year celebration, we're going to talk more about later. Our guest Renske Green Luta describes herself as a Dutch fanatic, and she's thoroughly explored the cities and sights of her beautiful country. She lives with her American partner and six year old daughter in the northwest of Holland, where she runs a small b&b. She's a marketer and has been responsible for airline marketing at Schiphol Airport outside of Amsterdam. Welcome.
Renske Green-Lute 01:39
Thank you, Lea
Lea Lane 01:42
Let me clear one thing up. Some people say Holland and some say the Netherlands. What's the difference between the two terms?
Renske Green-Lute 01:49
Well, I do know that we have two parts, two provinces, and the one is called North Holland and the other one is called South Holland. And from the old days, we used to call it Holland. And that's also where a lot of the windmills are. So I'm guessing that's where the name Holland comes from.
Lea Lane 02:04
I think I've read that. That's basically it. It's just a sort of a summary. Right. But I'm going to intersperse Netherlands and Holland, because I'm never sure which is which. There's also the term Dutch. And I read that comes from the 1500s, when the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were part of the Holy Roman Empire.
Renske Green-Lute 02:22
Yes, that's true. And we always have a little trouble with it. Because when people abroad ask me, What language do you speak? And I say, Oh, I speak Dutch. And it's like, oh, you're German? And I'm like, No, I'm not German. I'm Dutch.
Lea Lane 02:34
Yes, I know. It's very close to German. It sounds close to German. For those of us who don't speak both languages. We'll talk about many of Holland's cities and towns. But first you fly into Schiphol, a great airport, or maybe you arrive on a riverboat on the Rhine to one of the great cities of Europe, Amsterdam. What would you say not to miss in Amsterdam, if you only had a day or two, if you've never been?
Renske Green-Lute 02:57
I would definitely do a walking tour and check out the canals. And if you're not good by foot, please take a boat because there are numerous routes you can take to have like a boat trip through the canals. After that, I think I would go to a market because I really like markets. And we have really plenty of markets where you can find all sorts of things. And of course not to miss the great museums we have, I would go to the Riks Museum where you would you have the the Nightwatch is there by Rembrandt, they just restored it. And so it's now back in its full glory. The Van Gogh Museum where you have the latest paintings, it's really close by. You got a beautiful area, we can just sit down and have lunch and relax and watch the people go by.
Lea Lane 03:57
And the concert hall is right by there. I once went to a concert after going to museums and then at night to the beautiful orchestra. And it was a perfect day. And it's all within a walking distance. And let me just ask you about biking; everyone's on a bike. Do you think a person who isn't living in country would be in danger?
Renske Green-Lute 04:02
Yes, I would say tourists can be a bit in danger if they don't look left and right on every path that they cross because also walking can be, it can be a dangerous situation.
Lea Lane 04:14
One thing about the canals that you mentioned, it's so beautiful at night. I don't know if people want to do that instead of in the daytime but they light the bridges, underneath the bridges and it's like strings of pearls all along the canals. It's exceptionally beautiful as a nighttime activity. I would add a couple of houses to visit; one is Rembrandt's house. And then of course Anne Frank's house, we've discussed that in previous episodes. There's a line there very often, you can work it out to get tickets, I think, ahead of time.
Renske Green-Lute 04:42
And another place I would recommend, translated the Museum of Our Lord in the Attic. And it's a former church and it's spread across the top three floors of a 17th century canal house. And then you can see how it used to be. because Catholics would come to pray there after public displays of worship were banned in 1578, and it's all in its original state, and you just come in. I was there a few weeks ago. I've never been there before. So I came in and all of a sudden, you see this entire church just in the middle of a canal house. It is absolutely gorgeous. And it's close by the station.
Lea Lane 05:25
Wow, one thing we'll take it from churches to another topic that's on the other side of it. In Amsterdam, prostitution is legal, but not on the streets. So that's why there's a Red Light District. Tell us a little bit about that.
Renske Green-Lute 05:38
It's in the city center. It's a bit on the east side, but it's definitely within the city center. And you have the women at the windows, and you have tourists, tourists and men walk by, and the women, yeah, they're they're mainly on display. It's a strange sight.
Lea Lane 05:56
It's strange. I mean, the windows are red. If you go at night, it's really neon red. And there are about 300 of them. And it's something to see for whatever reason, because it's different. And that's a part of Amsterdam that many people ask about.
Let me just ask you this. If you're going to spend a day outside of Amsterdam, at this time of year, it's obvious that one place to definitely try to go to is in Lisse which is the area surrounded by tulip fields, and it's home to the famed Keukenhof Gardens, which is the most beautiful spring park in the world, with more than 7 million spring flowers in bloom. I think about at the end of April and early May is the prettiest time, What do you think?
Renske Green-Lute 06:39
Yes, definitely. And don't forget to get a warm Stroopwafel while you're at it.
Lea Lane 06:44
Yes. What is a stroopwafel? Let's explain that.
Renske Green-Lute 06:47
It's a Dutch cookie. I know they have them in the states now as well. But nothing beats a fresh one. And I know in the Keukenhof they're really making them fresh. It's like two layers of cookie with some syrup inside. And actually you need to put it on your hot tea, so the syrup will melt, but with a fresh one that's already.
Lea Lane 07:06
Oh my goodness, flowers and delicious cookies, what could be better? I have a tip. I read that in summer when the gardens are closed, there is a special flowering near the Keukenhof Castle, it's 150 different types of flowering dahlias. It's the end of August, until mid October. You can go there and visit and I didn't know that. So it may not be quite as spectacular, but it's a very interesting thing to do. Because many, many people travel in the summer so you can get out there and see the flowers in that way.
Now, let's talk about some of the other great towns and cities of Netherlands. Let's start with Gouda that's familiar with a lot of people. Tell us about little Gouda.
Renske Green-Lute 07:45
Gouda is also a very old city with a lot of beautiful restored buildings. And they have a big square and in the middle of the square. There's the City Hall. And there's this really cute red window how you call those thing, shutters. Yeah, you can walk around and of course it's home to the famous Dutch Gouda cheese.
Lea Lane 08:05
Yes, I have been there and it's fun to eat Gouda in Gouda. Now there's something else that I found out; there's something called Gouda by Candlelight. It's not eating cheese by candlelight. It's a special event. What do you do at Gouda by candlelight Do you know? Well, I do, you lounge on the City Beach, which I thought was kind of fun. Yeah. This is the kind of thing you get when you when you read, you find out all these interesting things. That's what I like about the Netherlands is so many fun activities. It's not just the the things you think you know, it's so many other things and it's always fun. I would maybe check that out. It sounds interesting. Now how about Rotterdam, that's considered the second city.
Renske Green-Lute 08:43
So Rotterdam is known for its stunning skyline, whereas Amsterdam is more old rather than is new, because in I believe May of 1940, during the German German air raid, Rotterdam got bombed and other historic sites were destroyed. And they did not rebuild it. They let architects rebuild it. So it now looks very modern and so pretty and so different than Amsterdam. It has a whole different vibe to it. And a few things that they have is for example, the Market Hall; that's a major site opened in 2009 and it's a very big market hall with a beautiful roof with a lot of paintings, and there's a lot of little eateries where you can have a little lunch.
Lea Lane 09:25
Yes, tell me a little bit about the food, we're talking about food a couple of times, some of the traditional foods of Holland.
Renske Green-Lute 09:32
Well, Lea, I gotta let you know that the Dutch are really not known for their wonderful cuisine. We did have a lot of spices coming in there from the from the south in the 1500s. But we never use them in our food. Actually the typical dinner, it's called an AVG.
Lea Lane 09:53
AVG, I've read that AVG.
Renske Green-Lute 09:56
The A stands for potatoes. The V for meat, and the G for vegetables. And then you would think that we will do something fun with the vegetables but no, we just boil them in water. So yeah, we don't have a good cuisine. But we do have some fun things like the Dutch pancake which is thinner than American one but thicker than a French one. And we don't eat it for breakfast. We definitely eat them for dinner.
Lea Lane 10:29
How about biterballen and croquetta?
Renske Green-Lute 10:31
Yes, also something that's that we have. It's a broth with dough around it. And it goes in the frying pan. And it's not good to eat everyday but it's definitely a really good treat.
Lea Lane 10:44
Sounds like it goes well with some of the beer that's produced and the gin. So that probably tastes good. I have had a wonderful meal, the rijsttafel, the Indonesian dinner. Have you had that?
Renske Green-Lute 10:58
Yes, thank God, Indonesia, because they did give us a lot of good dishes, yes.
Lea Lane 11:08
It was delicious. We had lots of little courses. It was quite elegant. And it was very Indonesian. So I I think of that when I think of Dutch food.
I just wanted to go back to Rotterdam because we were talking about the architecture. I heard of something called the cube houses and I never saw them. Tell me what that is? It sounds fascinating.
Renske Green-Lute 11:26
Yes, it was made by Piet Blom, an architect. And he did a few amazing architectural structures also around here where I live, but in Rotterdam, there are cube houses and the people that live there had to make everything you know, because you cannot put a closet in a cube. So everything was building. And there is one of those houses -- I believe there's over 24, but I'm not really sure -- but there's at least one that's a museum and you can go in and you can see how the people live.
Lea Lane 11:51
And I heard it was on a 45 degree angle; the houses are angled. It's very, very interesting. I would love to see that. That's what I like, I want to go back and see more.
Let me ask you about one of the prettiest towns I think of all, Delft. Tell me about that.
Renske Green-Lute 12:05
This is also a historical town. It's also old, it kind of the same as in Amsterdam. And it has two big churches. The old one and the new one. And the royal family is buried in the old one.
Lea Lane 12:19
Yeah, so the House of Orange, is that correct? And that's why people wear orange and associated with with your country. There's a King's Day celebration. I know that lots of orange there. Is that the King's birthday?
Renske Green-Lute 12:32
Yeah, yeah, it's the King's birthday. And in the cities, there's a lot of musical festivals and everybody goes there when you're above 18. And in the villages, I think every village has a market where little kids can put their their sheet down and sell their toys and from the money they gain by selling they go to another one and buy new toys.
Lea Lane 12:52
Oh, how clever. Yeah. What day is Kings Day?
Renske Green-Lute 12:55
April the 27th. Okay, it used to be on April the 30th when we had our queen and then it was called Queen's Day and then it was Kings Day. It's only three days earlier because that's his real birthday.
Lea Lane 13:06
Now of course there's Delft pottery made there and you can buy it in the beautiful Delft Blue Earthenware and all around, you've got wonderful canals. And the great painter Vermeer was born there. So there's a Vermeer center -- the painter who did the girl with a pearl earring and, others. So there's a lot of art and it's just a wonderful place. I love Delft. Tell me about the Hague.
Renske Green-Lute 13:28
Well, the Hague is the seat of the government and home of our royal family. Whenever I'm in The Hague, it feels more like richness: riches and grandeur. It's a very pretty city. It has the inner court. And it's the central courtyard, and there's a lot of buildings surrounding it. And it's where our parliament is seated.
Lea Lane 13:46
It's also the only big city with a beach directly on the North Sea coast. You can actually go to the beach. And that's that's something I think about when I think about the Hague. Again, another surprise. How about Utrecht.
Renske Green-Lute 13:59
Utrecht is the fourth largest city of this country, I believe. And they also have canals running through the city centre, just like Amsterdam, but also on a much smaller scale. The shopping center is great in attached to the train station. So whenever you're in Amsterdam, you can just hop on the train from Amsterdam to Utrecht, it's only a 30-minute train ride. But actually everything in Holland is close. Because you can drive through this whole country within three hours.
Lea Lane 14:23
And it's wonderful if you can take a train and be from one end of the country to the other in a day. It's just fantastic.
Renske Green-Lute 14:30
Yeah. In other words, you'll be in Belgium, Luxembourg or Germany. Utrecht has this Dom tower. It's Dom Church, and it's a big tower and it stands in the middle of the city and you can go up there and you can oversee the whole city. And you also have the cathedral attached to it, the St. Martin's cathedral at the Dom tower.
Lea Lane 14:52
And it has some wonderful wharf cellars where you can eat underneath where the canals are, right? So it has lots of special things there. Yeah, some other small cities that are very beautiful, Harlem is one.
Renske Green-Lute 15:04
Harlem has City Hall and also a big a church or Cathedral in the middle of the square and it has a beautiful square and especially in summertime, all the terraces are out. You can sit on the terrace have some beer or wine and then you can see all the brides that come to the city hall. You can sit there the entire afternoon see all the brides.
Lea Lane 15:25
Oh, how lovely. Yes, that's that's like flowers. That's beautiful. How about Den Bosch?
Renske Green-Lute 15:32
Oh, Den Bosch. It's one of my favorites. It has this thing called a Bossche Bollen. And it's a big clot of cream. And I have to say different, it's a mousse. So it's a dough with cream inside and like a layer of chocolate around it. Oh my god, I think this entire country goes to Den Bosch just to eat a Bossche Bollen
Lea Lane 15:51
What's it called? Again?
Renske Green-Lute 15:53
Lea Lane 15:55
Renske Green-Lute 15:56
Yes, when you eat one you don't have to eat for another three days.
Lea Lane 15:59
Well, then you don't need very good cuisine. Otherwise, you could just keep eating that, I can see that and the rijsttafel, Okay, so that's again, something I'm learning. I love these surprises. Because I've been many times and never have done that I have to add that one also to my bucket list. Now a city I have been to, which does not look like the rest of Holland. It's in the south. And it's hilly, it's Maastricht. And tell us about Maastricht.
Renske Green-Lute 16:25
Maastricht for me always feels like you're in another part of the country. You're not even in the country, because it's hilly. And it's beautiful. And it has these big, big promenades, and a nice Walking Street and beautiful city center also with all buildings and structures, and you're really close to Belgium, and you just feel it everywhere ,you feel it. The way that people speak. They speak on a very different dialect. It's almost like singing.
Lea Lane 16:52
There are Roman excavations there and all kinds of things that you wouldn't expect. So it's another surprise, and I highly recommend that town as well. Now, there's some places they're not always cities, but there's something you might not want to miss. One is the Wadden islands. Tell me about that?
Renske Green-Lute 17:10
Yes, those are the islands on the north of Holland. And you can you can get there by ferry that leads from North Holland. And you can do different things on the on the islands, for instance. So you can walk around and see the little cities. You can walk through the woods.
Lea Lane 17:34
To the mudflats? Yes, yes, I know that people dig for clams and oysters and you can have them for lunch. I heard people go and have champagne and oysters. They dig their own oysters and then have a lovely lunch. I heard there was also parasailing and parachuting there. And it's a very famous area because it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And one thing I read, another surprise, you can stay in different kinds of accommodations. You can sleep in a yurt, you can sleep in a lighthouse, or you can stay in an American air stream. So you like those RVs those very sleek ones, you can actually sleep overnight in one, which again, I have never heard of before. And I want to do that as well. One place I love and I've been to more than once is the Kroller- Muller Museum. Tell us about that.
Renske Green-Lute 18:24
It's really close to the German border, like a sort of forest, a beautiful park, where if you walk through it, you find the most beautiful pieces of art, and it's outside and you can have a walk through and there's also a museum attached with more.
Lea Lane 18:41
Yes, it's beautiful, many many Van Goghs, there are very many, I think more than anywhere else. It's a surprise because it's in a beautiful forest. As you said, it's sculptures all around you. What a lovely place to go. I've been there twice. I'd love to go back. Another place that I have not been are some of these fortress cities. Tell me a couple of them. How many are there?
Renske Green-Lute 19:01
There are five, they are top notch because they're from the Middle Ages. And in that time, had those city walls for protection. Yes, they were star shaped. You can walk around them. You can walk on the star, you can walk inside in the little city center. And there's actually one close by Amsterdam that's Naga. But the most famous and most beautiful one is on the north of Holland.
Lea Lane 19:29
That's a 12th century one. That's kind of amazing. And I could take right just from talking, an extra week. You know, you think of going to the major places, but I can think of many, many others to go to now and I'm going to add them in so I'd say I need at least a week from what we're talking about. One of the things I visited that was very, very outstanding; something called Delta Works. Can you tell me about that?
Renske Green-Lute 19:52
It's in Zealand, it's on the sea.
Lea Lane 19:55
With a storm surge barrier. It's got dikes and dams and sluice gates. It's and it's really dealing with keeping the water away from the beautiful country because you're really under under the water otherwise, right?
Renske Green-Lute 20:08
We are definitely under the water. Yes, it's said that over 65% of this country would be underwater at high tide. If it wasn't for all the the dikes and the dunes and the pumps.
Lea Lane 20:18
It's spectacular when you visit it. I mean, it's not something I would think to go to, but they take you through it. And you actually see the future. Because you guys since the 1953 disastrous flood there, you built this system. And I think people come from all over the world to now learn from you. I live in Miami. And I know we've sent people over there to learn because this is unfortunately what might be coming. So this is the future. Unfortunately, the past is there in Holland and also the future, and talking about past and future once every 10 years for the past 70 years, the Netherlands has celebrated with the International horticulture exhibition called Floriade. And this is the year it starts: April 14 2022. And the expo this year is the seventh edition. And it shows us an optimistic future. That's the theme. They're expecting 2 million visitors like a living laboratory, it stimulates your senses and it's going to focus on eco friendly life in the city.
Renske Green-Lute 21:18
I worked at Floriade 10 years ago. I have to say it was 20 years ago,
Lea Lane 21:27
Well, time flies when it's every 10 years.
Renske Green-Lute 21:29
It does. I was 22. And I worked at a pavilion. And we showed everybody the Haarlemmermeer. So it has a lot to do with the dikes and the dunes in the Haarlemmermeer around the airport, because that's also a big area that's below sea level. And that was reclaimed from the sea. You can walk through, we have a lot of countries that show their new agricultural futuristic ideas to to the world. So you see a bit of the future in there.
Lea Lane 22:00
Yes, very interesting. Officials call it the greenest day out you can have. So it sounds like something special. It's only this year, and then 10 years from now you can go again. So check that one out if you're interested. So Renske thank you. \The name of the podcast is Places I Remember. Would you share a special memory of your country to end our talk?
Renske Green-Lute 22:20
Yes, of course. If I'm thinking about special I'm thinking about my grandfather in the war. World War Two. Yes. And he was a truck driver. He had his own truck. So he would drive around and help people with whatever moving and he was asked to to help the Nightwatch, the famous Rembrandt painting. Yes, yes, to put it in his car and drive to the dunes here in district one, which is a little town next to the sea. And in here we got bunkers. And that's where the Nightwatch was stored away for the Germans. So it would be kept for the Dutch.
Lea Lane 22:56
So he drove the Nightwatch; I mean, I haven't heard about the fact that they had to take it out and protect it and how fabulous it was when it came back and what a ceremony and I can only imagine that's one of your great treasures of your country. So wow, it's quite a memory.
Renske Green-Lute 23:11
There's a small bunker here in the dunes. And there's a little plaque standing there on the side that this was the bunker that the Nightwatch was stored. It's very famous.
Lea Lane 23:22
Amazing story. Let's hope it doesn't ever have to go out again for one thing. And thank you for sharing and for all your information. Let's say your country is known for old world charm. But as we discovered, it focuses on a greener future. And it's many delights make it a country to explore with great pleasure again and again. Thank you.
Renske Green-Lute 23:42
Thank you for having me, Lea. Thank you.
Lea Lane 23:49
Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.