It was my friend Joan of Planet Joan who pointed me in the direction of The Spell of Holland by Burton E. Stevenson, she’s a keen armchair traveller and you can read her thoughts on the book here.
I really enjoyed this book and I’m just glad that I intend to go back to visit Holland again sometime in the future as I’ve taken notes of lots of places to visit next time we’re there.
The book was first published in 1911, Joan has a lovely old copy of it but I made do with a free download from Forgotten Books, if you’re interested you can get it here. The author and his wife Betty hailed from Ohio and were unusual in that unlike most travellers they wanted to see the real Holland so they dodged the tourist hotspots and visited towns which were off the beaten tourist track.
What amazed me was just how little things seem to have changed in the Netherlands over the space of 103 years! All right – you don’t see people going about in their traditional costumes nowadays and the only person I saw actually wearing wooden clogs was selling them, but otherwise there are lots of things which haven’t changed at all.
I’ve always thought of Scotland as being until recently a strict Presbyterian place, but it’s over 30 years since shops in Scotland started opening on Sundays, and I can’t ever remember anyone avoiding working on the Sabbath day. Stevenson and his wife were surprised by the strict observation of it and it’s still exactly the same today. No shops open at all and my brother’s neighbour once complained about him working in his garden on a Sunday, when he should obviously have been reading his Bible. Jacky of course had a very good answer to that complaint which was – Did you go to church this morning? His neighbour of course replied that he did go to church. J asked him if it had been warm in there and the neighbour replied that it had been nice and warm. So J then said that it was only warm because a man in a power station had been working to supply the energy for it – on a Sunday! So that shut the neighbour up and he never had any problems with him again!
Stevenson described the staircases in Dutch homes as being more akin to ladders than stairs, and that is true in modern Dutch homes too. I couldn’t believe it when I saw my niece’s stairs. I would just like to know what the statistics are regarding accidents on stairs in Holland. I almost went up her’s on my hands and knees and going down was scary, in fact Stevenson said that he was always tempted to turn around and go down them as if they were ladders. I felt the same!
Breakfasts in Holland were described exactly as they are now, lots of different bread and rolls, cold meat, fruit, cheese and eggs. The only difference was that my Dutch family memebers also ate porridge/oatmeal but that might have been the Scottish influence and it might not be Dutch at all. The porridge was made in a magnetron which is what the Dutch call a microwave. We think magnetron is a much better name – so science fiction-ish so we have given up microwave for magnetron. Obviously those things didn’t exist in 1911 though.
It seemed that way back when the book was written the men didn’t do much in the way of work, whereas the poor women were run off their feet, usually whilst a man just looked on. They walked for miles with their milk pails on yokes when there were carts which could easily have been used to transport the milk, and the milkmaids. The women were even out scrubbing the streets and I have to say that nowadays in rural Holland everything does look clean and tidy but I don’t think they go that far now.
I took all of the above photos in or near the small town of Opende in North East Holland. I didn’t see two houses the same in Holland, people seem to design their own homes. I just wish I had thought to take a photo of some of the suicidal staircases. I believe that the third house, which is the one with a for sale sign outside it was actually built in 1911, when The Spell of Holland was published.
If you fancy a bit of armchair travelling yourself you might want to take a look at The Spell of Holland too. If you want to have a look at a Dutch magazine have a look at Seasons here.