The Netherlands

I’m excited to give you a tour around my own country this time!

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a small country in Europe. It’s also known as Holland, but Holland is only a small part of the Netherlands. The picture on the left shows the Netherlands and only the yellow part is Holland. The country is divided in 12 provinces. The youngest province is called Flevoland, this is reclaimed land after closing the Zuiderzee. A big part of the Netherlands is below sea level. The picture on the right shows the areas that would be flooded without dikes.

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I’m getting a little confused with the lingo about ancient Netherlands, but if I understand it correct the oldest found human remains date from 248.000 BC. People have been living here for a long, long time. The first reports about this part of the world are related to the roman empire. At that time the Netherlands didn’t exists and it was populated by 3 tribes: Franken, Saksen and Friezen. Charlemange sort of united these tribes and he introduced christianity into this part of the world. We’re now around 800 after christ and the first steps towards modern Netherlands are now taken, but it would take until 1815 to have an official Kingdom of the Netherlands. In those 1000 years there have been vikings, british and french rulers, epidemics, wars and floods. If you like to read more about it’s history please go here.

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During the 17th century the dutch where doing great at trading, science, war and art. Famous dutch painters of that era are Rembrand and Vermeer. Anthon van Leeuwenhoek was the founder of microbiology. The trading was done by the VOC and WIC. The focus of VOC was Asia, the WIC focused on countries around the Atlantic ocean. As like many other european countries the dutch couldn’t just sail the oceans and trade with the local inhabitants, they had to colonize it. This part of my nations history still feeds public debate. Maybe I tell a little more about that later.

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Since 2013 Willem Alexander is king of the Netherlands (his mother Beatrix retired). The tasks of our king/queen are mostly ceremonial, but until 2012 the queen appointed the (elected) government. The king/queen also has to approve all changes of law. Queen Juliana (who reigned from 1948-1980) refused to sign once, but this is the only time the royal didn’t approve the government. Our king/queen is mostly busy with connections with other countries (diplomatic and economic) and they are very important in uniting the dutch people. We are a blunt nation with people that speak their mind and opinons are very divided, but we all (well, most of us) love our royals (and the dutch soccer team, even when they suck).

Elections are held every 4 years, unless the cabinet falls apart. There are 285 official politic parties known in the Netherlands, 98 of them have runned or are running in national election. (285 parties, I said it, we are a divided country) You understand it never happens 1 party gets enough votes to be the government, so coalitions are formed. Since 2000 until now there should be 4 coalitions (according to every 4 years an election) but we’ve had 7.

Dutch food is plain and easy, with a lot of potatoes. But it will give you a lot of energy to continue working. I choose this dish because of the funny name: Naked behinds on the grass.

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You need: potatoes, french beans and canned white beans, some milk and pepper/salt as pleased. Peel potatoes and boil them for 20-30 minutes (add salt in water if you like) then smash them with a little milk (add some pepper if you like). Cut french beans in small pieces and boil them for 15 minutes, add white beans after 10 minutes. Mix mashed potatoes with beans and your meal is ready to eat. Combine this with some dutch meatballs and you have a traditional dutch plate.

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In 1916 there was a huge flood that killed 51 people and affected the cities Amsterdam and Rotterdam. This wasn’t the first flood and would not be the last, the Zuiderzee was claiming land and wouldn’t stop doing so by itself. Because of this flood it was decided to create the Afsluitdijk. This Dike would turn an inland sea into a fresh water lake. In 1953 another flood came over the Netherlands. This time not from the sea in the north, but in the west. 1836 people died within this flood. Also the UK an Belgium where strucked by this flood. This flood is still in our collective memory, also because many survivors are still living today. (My mother can remember sitting on top of a roof waiting to be rescued, she was wearing a new red jacket and was worried it would get dirty, kids…) This flood was the start of building the Deltawerken. It closes the sea from the land in the south/west area. Here you can find a video on youtube on how those huge and impressive barriers are build.

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I live in Dordrecht and above is a map of my city from 1650. The city has grown a little since then and my house would be somewhere behind the word DORT. It’s a very old city. It was founded in 1220 on a piece of earth where 3 rivers joined and it was possible to cross the rivers here. It became an important trading city between 1600-1800. In the old centre are still many buildings from that era. Many painters lived in Dordrecht (Ary Scheffer was even born here). Today you will find many galleries here, art still is important for the city. During the summer you find all sort of art and food events, but also the biggest book market of the country and an almost magical steam machine event.

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Dordrecht played a important part in how christianity is lived in the Netherlands. The “Canons of Dort” where written here in 1618/1619 and these rules are still used in the reformed church. In those days the reformed church was the biggest religion in the Netherlands, now that’s catholic. (50% of the nation has no religion, 23% catholic, 10% reformed, 5% islam and 6% other).

It’s a city you have to learn to love. Yes we do have all these gorgeous buildings, but at first sight the city seems to be run-down. The shopping centre has many empty buildings and could use some paint. But leave that mainstreet and start wandering around and you will find so many beautiful sightings, special stores and unique restaurants/bars.

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Many of the old buildings have a plaque or some other sort of interesting detail. The naked boy above comes with a story. Long time ago 3 brothers lived in Dordrecht, they where very competitive with each other. The made a bed about who could build the most scandalous house. 1 came up with this naked boy, 1 with a mermaid with naked breasts and the thirth was that much scandalous the house was broken down by the villagers and no one mentioned what it was. The boy still can be found in the city. In 1897 he was covered up to be decent when the queen visited.

 

 

 

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Oman

I was thinking it might be nice to change my normal writing routine for this passport challenge and take you with me while I’m exploring Oman. The first thing I did was watching this movie about Oman and also part 2. It’s a very positive movie about Oman. It looks like it is a modern country with high goals in research and development, good human and women rights and beautiful landscapes. I must admit I’m skeptical, Oman is an Arab country and therefor it’s hard to believe that human and women rights are valued. I don’t want to offend anyone, I know this is very short sighted of me. At this point I’m very curious what this journey will teach me and I hope I’m wrong.

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In the south-west of Oman a site was discovered holding stone tools that belong to the Nubian Complex. So far this was only found in north-east Africa. This means human have lived in Oman (or what we now know as Oman) for a very long time. It also gives us information about how and when people migrated from Africa to the rest of the world. Maybe I should learn more about this ancient migration thing. I’ve seen it mentioned before and I know long time ago all the continents where connected to each other, but I know very little of it and it might be interesting. Oman was influenced by the Persian dynasties until the country accepted Islam as their religion. It was 1 of the first countries that came in contact and accepted Islam. As like christians, Islam had it’s ambassadors as well. (I never thought about that before, but now I think of it, it makes sense. It’s kind of weird to realize how little I know). From 1507 -1650 Oman was ruled by the Portugese, followed by the Ottoman. In 1741 a leader of an Omani tribe took over and he was the first of the sultan family that still is in charge. Oman becomes a powerful empire with a peak in the 19th century. For those who want a more in depth read about Omans history here is a link.

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Qaboos Bin Said is now the sultan of Oman. He came in charge in 1970 and put a lot of effort in making Oman a modern country where life is good for it’s inhabitants. Many health and education facilities where created, everyone is allowed to vote at the age of 21, women can participate in society, even in the government. It looks like that movie I watched is telling the truth. That makes me happy, although the praise to the sultan in the video makes me feel uncomfortable, but that could be a cultural thing. And then I read this article about human rights in Oman. It’s not all sunshine. Freedom of speech is such an important thing in my world, it’s also a much discussed subject in my world. It’s a difficult subject, I don’t think the world gets better if everybody can speak their mind without considering other peoples feelings and values, I also don’t think it’s good if people aren’t allowed to say they don’t approve to rules and opinions.

I’ve read a short folk tale about a princess who doesn’t speak. Her father says the man who makes her speak can marry her. Gorgeous looking men with all kinds of skill come over, but the princess  never speaks, until that 1 man that doesn’t look so hansom and doesn’t have impressive skills appears. He wins the heart of the princess by being kind to all people around him.

Above video is of a dance that is on the Unesco list. I love how Unesco tries to also keep traditions alive. Here you can find a youtube playlist with more Omani music. I don’t know if you have ever heard of an artist named Gaslampkiller, but he could turn this into something I would like.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve done an excursion and brought home a souvenir. I went to Ras Al Jinz, a turtle reserve. 5 of the 7 sea turtle species can be found here and this is 1 of the places they lay their eggs. The centre creates awareness of human treats against the turtles and you can book an excursion at night to watch the turtles nesting. That would be very special to see for real.

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I cooked a chicken dish with egg and cheese bread as a sidedish. It’s probably me, but I had some difficulty understanding the recipe, therefor I adjusted it a little. I first baked the chicken and onion and then let it simmer with tomato and spices for about half an hour. The dough of the bread is very sticky indeed. I couldn’t split it. I took my baking tray and spread out the dough on that to make 1 big bread and baked it in the oven. The bread was a little too thick and not well done in the middle. Warm cheese is a thing I always love and that made it still tasty, but it wasn’t my best cooking.

 

 

Namibia

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O my! I think we are now visiting the most beautiful country of the world. Seems every picture of Namibia is stunning! I’m so glad I took this passport challenge and get to see all this beauty. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to see it for real.

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People have lived in Namibia for a very long time. I try to discover how old these rock engravings are, besides the 6000 BC that is said in the linked website I also find 300 BC and even 27000 BC. I don’t know what is true, fact is they are very very old.

During the European colonization of the world the biggest part of Namibia belonged to Germany. After the end of WW1 this area was given to the UK, under the administration of South Africa. South African laws where implemented, including apartheid. At the end of the 1950’s the first movements for independence are formed. It took until 1990 to become an independent nation.

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The official language is english, but only 2 % of the inhabitants speak english as their mother language. The language that connect the several tribes is afrikaans. 80-90% of the people have a christian religion. The capital is named Windhoek and you can find desert, savanne and wetlands in Namibia. So far for the facts, if you like to read more go here.

I have watched this documentary by National Geographic, again I can not believe how beautiful this country is.

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According to this blog this risotto is food from Namibia, because of the colonization a lot of european flavors are added to the Namibian kitchen. It was a good meal with a nice combination of sweet and sour.

Again I could not find books about a country. My library is disappointing me. I did found a novel as an ebook about a man telling his story to a prostitute in the capital of Namibia. I downloaded it, but hadn’t time to read it.

Macedonia

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While most people use to summer to travel, we took a break of traveling. But on we go with our tour around the world and this time we travelled to Macedonia, or the Republic of Macedonia to be more precise. Macedonia used to be a part of Yugoslavia and became independed in 1991. Greece has a state named Macedonia and to avoid confusion the country has gotten republic in front of its name.

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Republic of Macedonia has a long history. It was part of the Roman empire, Byzantine empire, Ottoman empire and than federation Yugoslavia. At first Macedonia didn’t notice much about the wars going on in Yugoslavia, until the Kosovo war in 1999. Read all about Macedonias history here.

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The capital is named Skopje and Greece prefers to use this name for the country. 70% of the people have an orthodox religion, 28% is muslim, leaving 2% for something else. It’s a country surrounded by other countries, no sea or ocean at it’s borders.

I have watched this movie on youtube. It’s a good promotion for tourism I think, I want to go for real now. I couldn’t find any books about or situated in Macedonia in my library, not even a simple travelguide. That was disapointing, but only the first time this library couldn’t help me.

I cooked this recipe. Anything called pizza is worth a try. And it was good! I will make this once more and add some veggies to it. I’m not really a bread maker, anything that needs a dough intimidates me. For this I was sure it didn’t work, because after waiting the dough wasn’t twice its size as before, but it tasted fine.

I liked this trip trough the Republic of Macedonia. It was sometimes hard to find information because google results get mixed up with Macedonia of Greece and often I got results about Albania. But I had fun again and am happy the challenge continues.

Laos

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During the 14th century the kingdom Lan Xang is formed. This country survived a couple of centuries and is the base of modern Laos. It falls apart in 3 countries and those are conquered by France in 1893. They call it Laos.During world war 2 Laos is taken by Japan, when this war ends the French come back. Laos becomes independend in 1954.

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Laos gets involved in the Vietnam war by helping the Americans. In the border area between Laos and Vietnam more bombs are dropped then on Germany and Japan together in WW2. This area still isn’t very safe because of this. Further Laos is a safe country to travel, altough the roads are bad and public transportation isn’t very well organised.

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The largest religion is buddhism. There are 2 official Unesco sites. If you travel in Laos be careful for your health, healthcare is very rare.

I’ve watched this documentary about Hmong people. WARNING: it’s a very unpleasant documentary to see, there is a lot of cruelty against those people and the images are very raw. The reason why these people are treaten this bad has to do with the Vietnam war. According to Laos government they choose the wrong side and needed to be punished. I can get that, but I don’t understand why a child must be butchered for this in 2000something. You can read more about Hmong culture and history here.

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For cooking I tried another springroll/eggroll recipe. I like making this kind of food, wrapping things is fun. They split open during the baking part, but the taste was good. I did like the cambodian version a little better.

Kazakhstan

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Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union and became independence in 1991. It now is a republic. The president is Nursultan Nazarbayev. It’s supposed to be a democracy, but that is doubted. Although the people are happy with their president and with real elections he probably be president too.

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Original the people living in Kazakhstan are nomads. This way of life and the Kazakhs culture was suppressed by Lenin. The population increased by 38% by starvation and emigration. To let the population grow again the Russians deported many people to Kazakhstan. Now a days there live 131 ethnicities.

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Kazakhstan is economic very successful, there is a lot of oil. The biggest religion is islam. You can read more about Kazakhstan here. The pictures are found on the internet. I search on instagram for the country and save the images that appeal to me. I have no idea who have taken these pictures, but I do want to thank you all.

Do you remember when Obama became president of the USA he said he would close Guantanamo bay? To do so a place where those people could live had to be found. A few of the Guantanamo prisoners are now living in Kazakhstan. Vice made this documentary about 1 of them. It’s worth watching, those men still aren’t free, they even prefer Guantanamo above this life.

I cooked a meal called Sambas. It’s meat in bread, must be good. And it was. I order my meat online. The animal lives longer than it does with “normal” meat, the cows are used for milk and meat and the animals have more space to live, also outdoors. When you order you have to wait till the whole cow or pig is sold before it is butchered. Between ordering and receiving can be 6 weeks. I think this is a more animal friendly way of eating meat, but I often eat vegetarian as well. It just tastes too good to not eat meat at all. Anyway, this is the recipe I cooked. I used store-bought dough for the bread, sometimes you need to be kind to yourself and keep it simple.

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Next year the world Expo is held in Astana. All buildings will be powered by wind and solar energy. The pictures of the buildings look amazing. It’s almost science fiction. I think it’s a huge contrast with the rest of the country.

India

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India is the second most populated country of the world. There live thousand million people, I don’t even know how to pronounce that number. The capital is New Dehli, but the largest city is Mumbai. It’s official name is Republic of India.

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India is an upcoming economic nation. More people become richer, but still many people are poor. There isn’t much of a middle-class, altough I assume this will come as long as the country keeps developing. Because of India’s culture and caste system it might be harder for some people to escape poverty.

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India is a large country with divers landscape. You can find tropical beaches, dessert, mountains and forrest. It has a past of migrants and therefor has an interesting mix of all kinds of cultures. Biggest religion is hinduism, but islam, christianity and buddhism are also quit big. As always the above pictures are found online and not taken by me. They do make me curious, it’s so colorful and such interesting architecture. Who want to read more global information about India can visit wikipedia

 

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You can’t go to India and not visit the Taj Mahal. This building is listed as a world heritage site. I watched this documentary on youtube. I did not know it was a mausoleum, I might be the only person on earth who didn’t know this. The documentary tells about a great love story, but it also shows how the people who did the labour and the people who lived in the area of the building suffered. Maybe it’s a good thing we don’t create buildings like this anymore. Still, it’s an amazing looking building and the filigree inside is unbelievable.

India has a large film industry called Bollywood. The first movie was made in 1913. The movies are populair all over the world and often a Bollywood movie sells more tickets than a Hollywood movie does. I went to the cinema and watched Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, it’s 1 of the bollywood movies that can be found on netflix. I searched the internet to see what people eat in a cinema in India and learned about Samosas and Vada. This recipe sounds yummy, but supermarket bought popcorn is so much easier. The movie was nice. A love that can not be, songs, colors. I watch these kind of movies every now and then, they are good entertainment.

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Visiting India means eating curry. I made 1 with chicken marinated in yoghurt and I made my own filled flatbread. I’m not a big fan of curry but I liked this a lot. It wasn’t hard to make and I will probably eat this again. The bread was nice, maybe add a little cheese to it.

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As a crafty element of this journey I created a mandala. A mandala can be used by meditation in buddhism. I don’t know much about traditional asian religions, but I do try to practice mindfulness and drawing and coloring like this sure made me focussing on the moment, paying attention to what I’m doing. I can understand this would help by a meditation, because it helps you focus.

 

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