Grab a suitcase, Betties, throw in a few tweeds and woolies, cram some wispy bits of lace into the corners, fold a pretty dress over the top – jersey, perhaps – and toss in a pair of wooden clogs.We’re going to the Netherlands!
Why the Netherlands?For the flowers, and the oil paintings, and the canals and windmills, and the excellence of Dutch designers in fashion and many other fields, the rich and continuing history of commercial and political risk-taking and problem-solving (and messing up badly at times; always an educational experience), the pancakes and chocolates and french fries with mayo.Plus, 60% of Betty’s books offer tourist tips for Netherlands to at least some degree.That’s 81 of 135, and doesn’t include the ones where heroines like Georgina Rodman or Henrietta Brodie, just as for-instances, visited or even lived in the country, but without getting driven through the Veluwe in a socking great Bentley, and amiably comparing it to the New Forest of England, or at least poking her pretty nose into the Rijksmuseum.(Essentially, not offering any suggestions a visitor might follow; perhaps even, as in Henrietta’s case, living in a fictional village.)
And where shall we go while we’re there?Well, 46 of us – that’s 57% of our Netherlands tourists – will visit small and out-of-the-way places, best characterized as “other.”This might include Medemblik, which Adelaide Peters enjoyed in Sister Peters in Amsterdam (1969).Or Soestdijk, which received a visit from Sarah Ann Dunn in Fate is Remarkable (1970) and another from Araminta Pomfrey in Nanny by Chance (1998).Both Claribel Brown and Sophie Blount (The Course of True Love, 1988 and The Awakened Heart, 1993) make it to Hindeloopen.They are probably all well worth a visit, though Betty gives them relatively short shrift.This is how The Rough Guide to Holland, updated second edition, describes Medemblik:“one of the most ancient towns in Holland, a seat of pagan kings until the seventh century, though there’s not a great deal to entice you here nowadays, unless you’re madly into yachts.”Hindeloopen, “its primness extreme even by Dutch standards,” used to have a tradition of using colorful, ornate dress, including headgear, to distinguish the wearers by demographic group, but that and the town’s traditional vibrantly-painted furniture are apparently no longer in evidence.Soestdijk doesn’t get a mention in the Guide.The guide’s loss, no doubt.
This seems to be a wedding in Hindeloopen.
And this is most certainly a boat race of some type in Medemblik.
Moving along to the bigger cities – actually, the biggest city – 22, or 16%, of Betty’s heroines tour Amsterdam (that’s 27% of those who sightsee in the Netherlands).The Rijksmuseum, Dam Square and the palace all get onto various itineraries, but it’s the canal tours, by boat, with commentary in multiple languages, that win the highest praise the most often.The UK’s Automobile Association, in its City Pack Amsterdam Map & Guide (third edition, 2002), picks the Vondelpark, the Stedelijk Museum and the Van Gogh Museum as the top three in its top-25 sights.I don’t recall any nurses making it to the park, though there’s at least one doctor who takes his dogs there; the Stedelijk is full of modern art, anathema to our heroines; and one queries whether Betty would even have wished to acknowledge the existence, even if thoroughly former, of a nutcase like Van Gogh.(Do make time for both museums if you can, though – Van Gogh’s evolution from potato-eaters to sunflowers in a very few years is amazing, and the Stedelijk will catch you up with contemporary Dutch artists, as well as offering Impressionists, Picasso and Chagall.)
Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum
Van Gogh at his own museum; an early work and one painted shortly before his death; the first is 1885 and the second 1890 – that’s not a long period of time for so dramatic a leap in style.
The next most-popular sightseeing stop in Neels-land Netherlands is Leiden, “a university town par excellence,” according to the Rough Guide.It’s entirely reasonable that 14 of our heroines peer about its canals and museums – that’s 17% of our visitors to the country – since that university includes an ancient and honorable medical school. Incidentally, the university was a gift to the city from William the Silent after Leiden endured besiegement by the Spanish in 1573-1574.The city’s liberation by William the S., who snuck a navy in through the dykes around the town (I just report this stuff; I don’t understand it), is celebrated annually with fireworks, herring, as delivered by William’s fleet, and a vegetable stew called hutspot, which the Spaniards allegedly left cooking over their campfires as they retreated.
They say it’s Leiden, but really it could be almost any Dutch city.
Eleven of our heroines take time to look around Den Haag, with its Mauritshuis art museum featuring Low Country paintings for the 15th-18th centuries, and the beach at the famously-unpronounceable Scheveningen.Three visit Scheveningen without taking time for Den Haag.On a side note, I recently dined with a Dutch friend and four American friends.We got some fun out of having Michiel say, “Scheveningen” for us, and trying to imitate him.Then we had to way over-tip the waiter, who seemed to be at least disconcerted and possibly alarmed by our hissing, spitting and glottal-stopping.
Why do you let me ramble on this way?Surely more important to know that nine Neels-nurses and non-nurses tour Alkmaar, and another nine Delft.Not technically “another” nine, since there’s overlap, but that’s 11% of the Netherlands tourists for each city.I am surprised.I feel like I’ve read about Alkmaar so often in Betty’s books that I could draw a picture of the cheese-weighing ceremony, if I could draw at all.But I can’t.
The color of their hats indicates to which company of the cheese-porters’ guild they belong.
Alkmaar also has both cheese and beer museums, which could make a pleasant afternoon for any tourist whose imbibing isn’t limited to sherry, wine and the occasional petrol-flavored cocktail.The Fateful Bargain (1989) is your best bet for more-detailed ideas on Delft; Emily tours its sites several times, with and without Sebastian.
Groningen and Utrecht, one north and one south, also get nine tourists each.Leeuwarden, near Groningen, gets six (8%), while Franeker and Dokkum, both near Leeuwarden, get four (5%) each – as does Apeldoorn, near Utrecht.Leeuwarden, Franeker and Dokkum are all in Friesland; Groningen the town historically was, but technically now is part of Groningen the province, bordering Friesland province.
The Veluwe and the River Vecht, both areas rather than towns or cities, have four and three Neels heroines, respectively, pausing long enough to reflect, at least glancingly, on those pastoral landscapes.Sneek (in Friesland) gets three, or 4%, and no other town gets more than two.Unless I’ve miscounted or missed something, and I hope you all know how very real a possibility that is.Rotterdam, which I believe is the second-largest city in the Netherlands, gets only one tourist, in the well-built person of Alexandra Dobbs of Cobweb Morning (1975), who is not impressed by what she sees.Given the city got bombed by both Axis and Allied powers in WWII, it seems to me a bit sniffy and ungrateful to expect it to exhibit the beauty and grace of lesser ports, which didn’t warrant quite such severe destruction.Incidentally, Tabitha van Beek doubtless gets a gander at Rotterdam at some point, as her husband, Marius, has a home there.I’m guessing she prefers his place in Veere, which offers more scope for pottering about wearing nothing but oil-stained shorts.You know what I’m saying...
Sadly modern Rotterdam, land of the frightening traffic – just there to be gotten through, according to Eulalia Euphemia. Betty Debbie may tell us just how long she lingered before grabbing the train north...
Now in production:BbtN: Touring Other Countries.Try to guess which countries rank #2 and #3 on the list.