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Oh, those Dutch


By Jonathan van Bilsen


Having been born in the Netherlands, I naturally have an interest in the way the Dutch look at things. Masters of draining water from reclaimed land is one of the world’s greatest innovations. Establishing tulip bulbs as a benchmark for currency, in the 1600s, was the forerunner to global stock exchanges. Of course, the adaptation of using windmills to cut wood, grind flour and pump water, revolutionized many industries. It is no wonder a constant bevy of innovations continue to emerge from this tiny, yet ingenious nation.

Windmills, an historical symbol, still play a vital role in the Netherlands. With over 1,000 of them, many still serve practical functions for the surrounding countryside.

Amsterdam also boasts Herring Ice Cream, a creation by Robin Alting which blends sweet ice cream with raw herring fish. Although unconventional, it has gained attention for its unique flavour, with Alting currently offering only samples of this curious concoction.

The entire village of Veenhuizen, about an hour outside of Amsterdam, stands out as a place devoted to prisons since the 1800s. Originally a housing colony for the poor, the village transformed into a penal colony, now housing individuals serving time for minor offenses, such as DUI charges.

One notable aspect, in the Netherlands, is the presence of outdoor urinals in cities like Amsterdam. Unlike North America, where public urination is frowned upon, Amsterdam offers free outdoor urinals to prevent people from urinating in areas like canals, presenting a practical solution to restroom accessibility.

Dutch bathrooms feature an interesting tradition: a birthday calendar. Birthdays are significant in the Netherlands, and public restrooms often display an annual calendar for visitors to jot down names, a customary way of acknowledging and celebrating birthdays.

Sinterklaas, the Dutch counterpart to Santa Claus, brings gifts to well-behaved children in December, embodying the tradition of treating children as ‘Kings and Queens’, during the darkest time of the year.

The Netherlands is renowned for its bike-friendly environment, with major cities redesigned to accommodate cycling. This shift has contributed to a lower obesity rate, compared to North America, emphasizing the success of promoting a cycling culture.

Amsterdam hosts unique attractions like Electric Ladyland, the world's only museum dedicated to fluorescent light, as well as The Cat Boat, a floating cat sanctuary, founded in the 1960s, for abandoned, sick, or stray felines.

Tanis Confectionery, a Dutch candy company, achieved a sweet victory by creating the world's largest gummy bear, weighing 1,700 kgs or nearly 4,000 lbs., standing at two metres by two metres.

FEBO, a chain of self-serve fast-food restaurants, allows customers in the Netherlands to order items like French fries and hamburgers from vending machines, providing a convenient and unique dining experience.

Many additional innovations, such as the largest bag of cookies. The world, inspection toilets and much more, have set the Dutch ahead of many other European countries. It does seem to confirm the age-old proverb: if you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.


Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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