Monday, 30 August 2010

Our own Elfstedentocht: Stop # 3

The beautiful gardens of Ijlst

The third stop in our attempt to follow the route of the Elfstedentocht -the ice skating race traditionally taking place in the northern province of Friesland- brought us to the quite small but picturesque town of Ijlst.

Ijslt or Ddryts in the Fries language, is one of the oldest cities in the province, having obtained its city rights in the year 1268. In the old days, the city was known for its shipbuilding industry and for its importance as commercial centre.

The city originated on the margins of the Old IJ river, from which it received its name. The only part now remaining of that river is the canal that runs through the very centre of Ijlst. The town has many historic buildings that can be visited, such as the beautiful tower mill de Rat (the Rat), built in 1828. This sawmill is still in use and run by volunteers. Have you ever wanted to try your hand at sawing? You might get a chance at de Rat!

 Another interesting monument is the Town Hall or Stadhuis built in 1859 in the place where the old council house from the 14th century used to stand.

 There are many more monuments worth visiting in Ijlst, a city that lists an impressive total of 43 monuments in the Royal Register, like this typical step-gable house dating from 1669.

But the characteristic feature for which Ijlst is most widely known is for its overtuinen - a line of mostly private little gardens that decorate the margins of what used to be old river IJ. These gardens were formerly known as bleken (bleachers) Can you guess why?

These little gardens used to be frequented by the housewives living on this street, who on washing days would come down to the river, wash their clothes and bleach them -bleken in Dutch- right there on the banks of the Old IJ.

In this photo you can see me standing by one of these bleken with a rather alarmed look on my face: my husband had somewhat tresspassed private property and stepped into one of the gardens to take the shot and I was not very comfortable with him doing that! Fortunately, he did not get caught ...

During the last couple of years, Ijlst has become an ideal location to spend the night in with water sports enthusiasts. An interesting number of cafés and restaurants offer a variety of possibilities for lunch or dinner, such as the Stadsherberg Het Wapen Van Ijlst, which has recently opened its guesthouse where you can take up a room to spend the night during your visit to this area of the country.

Our next stop in the Elfstedentocht will be the city of Franeker. As they say in Friesland: Oant sjens! See you in Franeker!

Stop #1 of the Elfstedentocht was Leeuwarden and you can find the post covering this city here.

Stop # 2 of the Elfstedentocht was Harlingen and you can find the post here.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Summer festivals in the Netherlands

A beautiful summer day at the beach in Urk, province of Flevoland.

Summer in the Netherlands is the best season of the year to travel around and get to see and experience all the cultural aspects of this incredible country. From north to south, west to east, the whole country seems to come out of its cocoon and burst into fun activities which are mostly carried out in the open, to celebrate the sun and compensate for the long months of winter inertia.

A full coffee terrace in the city centre of Zwolle, Overijssel.

If you are thinking of visiting the Netherlands this summer and music and/or dancing is your thing, there are options aplenty to choose from. One of the festivals that take place around the months of July/August each year is Dance Valley, which is held every year in the Spaarnewoude, a town located about 5 km from the beautiful city of Haarlem in North Holland.

Dance Valley is known as "the Woodstock of Dance", and started as a tribute to electronic dance music back in 1995 when approximately 8.000 people gathered to dance and listen to the music played by popular DJs. Today, Dance Valley has grown to one of the bigggest events in the country, with the 2009 edition attracting around 60.000 visitors.

Dance Valley Festival in Spaarnewoude. Photo from Wikipedia
This year the festival will take place on Saturday 7th August at Velsen Valley in Spaarnewoude, which is located at about 5 km from the beautiful city of Haarlem, in North Holland.
The festival will spread its wide array of events over four "grounds": "The Holy Ground", or the heart of the festival, which is where the main stage will be located, featuring house and progressive DJs; "The Solid Ground", where you will find the diehard dance fans and in 14 different areas music will be played non-stop, including the newest craves in electronic music; "The High Ground", where hard dance style will be the main theme; and the "Secret Ground", the place for trance music with the presence this year of star DJ Armin van Buuren.
Here you will find a detail of all the different areas of the festival and if you click on each of them, you will be taken to the list of artists that will be performing during the event.
Beware though, that entrance to the festival grounds is not free. Here you can find information about the cost of tickets and options to buy them online depending on where you are located.

Another important music festival is Camping Flight to Lowland Paradise, or simply known as Lowland, which attracts fans of pop music and, together with Pink Pop (celebrated every year in May), is the largest pop music festival in the Netherlands. The event is held each year in August in Walibi World amusement park located in Biddinghuizen, in the province of Flevoland (approx. 70 km from Amsterdam).
The festival does not offer just music, but also indoor and outdoor activities which include stand-up comedy acts, street theatre, literature, films and more.
This year Lowland will be held on 20-21-22 August and the tickets can only be bought online or by telephone. The programme is truly varied and amazing, including around a hundred different music groups, fifteen theatre and dance performances, seventeen stand-up comedians, etc.
You can find all the necessary information to attend the festival, including the programme and online ticket sale, clicking on this link.

If you are coming to the Netherlands this week or planning to visit next summer at around this time (early August) there is a very important event that is absolutely worth seeing at least once in your lifetime - the annual Gay Pride Parade in Amsterdam, the absolute highlight of Gay Pride Week which usually takes place in the first week of August each year.

Hundreds of converted barges parade along the Amsterdam canals while thousands of people watch the fun and join the party. Here on the official website of Gay Pride Amsterdam you will find all you need to know about this event - from tickets for the different events taking place during the weekend to programme of activities, photos and much more.Also, if you need to book a place to stay during your visit, take a look at who are currently offering an exclusive 10% discount on hotel bookings at