The biggest Small European Country

Back in 2015, I’ve written a post titled “How to choose a (small European) country“. I pondered on all the reasons I had to move, and on the challenges posed by choosing a new place. I won’t keep you in suspension – I did move. Out of Rotterdam. Not too far though – the municipal border of Rotterdam is about 500 meters away. But its a whole different country I am living in now. Since a few weeks, I live in  the biggest country in Europe – Suburbia. Here’s how it happened.

In the post I mentioned, I set down several criteria for a new place to live in. I was looking for a properly run country, with a pleasant climate, where I speak the language, in Europe, close to mountains and not too far from the family. After some though, and to my big surprise, I discovered I already lived in such a country, and the need to find a new one was rather less urgent than I though. As you perhaps recall, my test for a “properly run” country was the quality of the tap water. The Dutch tap water is the best in the whole world, so the country is obviously properly run. To determine whether the climate is pleasant I came up with the “wine test” – if the climate is good for wine, its good for me. While the Netherlands is best known for its beer, there are about 200 commercial wine yards spread throughout the country, so the Dutch score again. After 14 years spent here, I speak the language very well, so its another one for Holland. The country is obviously in Europe, so that criterion is satisfied, too. The proximity to mountains is a bit more difficult one. However, the Ardennes are just a couple of hours drive away, and the Alps are within a day’s drive. Sadly, the night train connection to Switzerland has been discontinued, but it’s not like I was using it every month or something. Finally, I wanted to live close to the family. Since we were pretty settled on remaining in the Netherlands, we though we might as well get the best of it – and grandma and the cousins are within cycling distance. I think we’ll be visiting them more often than I would visit glaciers, so its quite a good deal.

And so, I’m still blogging from a small European country – the biggest one of all – Suburbia.

 

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Boys will be boys (as far as Playmobil is concerned)

As I was clearing up the last remains of the holiday season, I came across the Playmobil brochure. In case you’re not familiar with the concept – its a bit like Lego, but for younger children. My kids (aged 2 and 4 now) love it, and we have quite a collection by now. I browsed through the brochure, and noticed something weird. It seemed as if there were no women in the Playmobil universe. Not only the figures were all male,  the children depicted playing with them were also exclusively boys. A while ago I came across a pack of dinosaurs stickers labelled “For boys aged 7 to 14″ and got pretty crossed about it. As if girls don’t like dinosaurs (my daughter loves them). So I decided to look into the Playmobil gender issue a bit closer.

I took a couple of post-its and a pen, and started checking the pages. I noted the Playmobil men doing “typical men stuff” like being a pilot and the Playmobil women (there were some after all) doing “typical women stuff” like being a stewardess, and vice-versa. After about 10 pages (the brochure has 60) I got fed up and quit counting. Counting on seemed a bit useless, as the results were rather clear.

  Men stuff Neutral stuff Women stuff
Men 110 5 0
Women 19 10 15
Playmobil: Man = pilot Woman = stewardess

Playmobil: Man = pilot, woman = stewardess

On the face of it, it wouldn’t have been so bad. After all, the women that did get to exists in the Playmobil universe got their share of opportunities in life. Sadly, that was not exactly the case. Going through the rest of the brochure, I did find plenty of Playmobil women. The second half of the brochure was full of them. And you’ll never guess what they were doing… OK, I’m joking – you can probably  fill it in yourself. Here it comes – as far as Playmobil is concerned, women exist to be pretty and shut up (the princesses), take care of the children (the moms and care-takers) and to spend money on shopping, beauty spa’s and vacations (the rest of them). What makes it even worse is that the Playmobil guy who does not want to be the macho man is pretty screwed. I found just one guy in the whole Playmobil shopping centre  who looked pretty gay , and the only dude in the daycare centre is the math teacher – how sad is that?

Spot the math teacher

Spot the math teacher

I am a proud father of a girl and a boy. And I encourage them the best I can to dare and become whatever they want. My daughter now wants to be a pilot. And a doctor. And maybe a policewoman. My son is only two, but he really enjoys dancing ans singing, and if he’ll want to make a career out of it, who am I to say no? I say to both – go for it. But its really tough to encourage your children to follow their own path in life, when the advertisements, the toys companies, the movies and about every other industry imaginable are all not really cooperating on this gender equality thing.

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A new begin in 2017

Some things change, some things stay the same… Only constant seems to be that things never turn out what you expected them to be. Enough philosophy. Having made this blog dormant a few months ago, I now wake it up again. No promises, just rolling with it and we’ll see where this all goed to.

Its not that I haven’t been busy all this time – on the contrary, I’ve been very industrious. I have a new job and a new house, and I’ll post some details about both soon. And I’ve also been doing some writing, too (besides job application letters, that is). I’ve published quite a successful article in Vers Beton (“Fresh Concrete”), which is an online magazine “for the hard-thinking Rotterdammers”. The article, titled Waarom de A16 Rotterdam er niet mag komen”, is in Dutch, and in it I tell why I object to the construction of a new highway in the area. For those of you who don’t read Dutch, basically, I think there’s already plenty of highways around here and precious little green open space. In my view, smashing one of the last open areas near the city for the sake of a highway that will not even solve the congestion problems is a bad, bad idea. As usual, the pictures tell a much better tale than me.

a13_a16-1

This is where the A16 highway is planned.

a13_a16-2

There’s really not that much of such landscape left around Rotterdam

a13_a16-3

The swan song of the classic Dutch views

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US 2016 Elections – from a small European country’s perspective

Just a few days until the US Presidential Elections. From a Small European Country the big circus on the other side of the pond seems unreal, like a Reality TV freak show. I guess its partly because most small European countries are governed by multi-party parliaments, where coalition governments are necessarily formed to achieve a majority. This usually softens the rough edges in politics, at least after the elections. The American “winner takes all” system creates a different vibe and a much more personal election race.

Which brings me to the personality of the candidates. I and many other Europeans wonder how and why the proud American democracy comes up with two such losers to compete for the most important office on the planet. Not only that, both are accompanied by VP candidates that are designed to be absolutely anonymous to the point of being interchangeable without anyone noticing. By now, the race is not about who’s the most suitable candidate – its obvious both are completely incompetent and shouldn’t be allowed to be president of anything except a Florida condo association. Its about who is the least repelling.

In the blue corner – an older, frailer version of Bill Clinton (how’s that for democracy – having two families run the country among themselves?), mired in corruption scandals and elected via a highly dubious process in her party, defeating a visibly crippled candidate, who obviously stood no chance in the national elections. In the red corner – a walking scandal with the emotional maturity of a 5-year old (“No, you’re the one that’s unfit” – yes, Donald, and why not add to it “My Shwartz is bigger than yours” – oh, I forgot, you already said that) and the credibility of Comical Ali. Come on, America, is that really the best you’ve got?

In all honesty, I don’t like Hillary Clinton. Few people do, not even her own husband it seems. My guess is that any Republican candidate would have taken this election by a huge margin with Hillary as the opponent. Anyone but The Donald. The dude looks more and more like a Democratic conspiracy to make Hillary look good. I never thought I’d say it, but with The Donald as the alternative, even I prefer Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office.

Every time he seems to be on his way up, The Donald manages to ruin his chances with an almost supernatural mastery. On the other hand, despite his ridiculousness, he still stands a chance to win. Which is sort of funny, in the way watching YouTube videos of crashing skateboarders is funny. Only this time its the only superpower in the world with a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons that’s going to crash on its balls and land on its head. I do wonder what else The Donald has to do or say to discourage the people that still think that voting for the political equivalent of Armageddon is a good idea.

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Cycling is Tel-O-Fun in Tel Aviv

Welcome to Tel Aviv – the flagship of the Middle East in bicycle friendliness

Bike Citizens Tel Aviv 3_v1_2

Tel Aviv’s compact layout, flat geography, mild climate and young population all combine to create a city that was destined to become a cycling hub. Cycling in Tel Aviv is fun, and nowadays it not just fun but also easy thanks to Tel-O-Fun, the city’s public bicycle program. The project was scheduled to be launched in 2008, but was delayed until the Israeli helmet law was amended in 2011. Once the mandatory helmet age was curbed to 18, Tel Aviv immediately launched the long-awaited Tel-O-Fun, and ignited a true cycling revolution. Bicycle rental stations popped up all around the city, and in a fortnight, the bicycle became a real alternative to the car in Tel Aviv.

Read more about Tel Aviv’s successful bike sharing program in my latest article in Bike Citizens Magazine.

Bike Citizens Tel Aviv 1_2

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Small European Country is going dormant

Dear readers,

I thoroughly enjoyed writing for you. At this point, however, I need to concentrate on writing my thesis, rather than blogging. Therefore, this blog about the life of a Small European country is going dormant. I might post something every now and then, if I have anything exceptional to say. Perhaps I will even wake this project up with a kiss at a later stage, or start a new project and let you know about it, but for now – so long and thanks for the fish!

P. S. If you’d like to write a guest post for Small European Country, you’re still mostly welcome to do so – contact me here!

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Best of Israel – Part II, off the beaten path

In “Best of Israel – Part I”, I got as far as Caesarea, having reviewed my favourite spots in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In Part II, I want to take you to the roads less travelled, and into the wild, showcasing parts of Israel that are less frequently exposed.

  1. Mount Carmel
    The Carmel ridge is rising above the coastal plain, starting at Caesaria, and stretching all the way to Haifa, where it dramatically cascades to the sea at the Bahai gardens. It is a green, lush hilly area, carved by deep valleys and full of wildlife. The Carmel is one of the centers of the Druze population in Israel  and a visit to their communities is a culinary delight. An exceptional site is the Mearot stream, a UNESCO-heritage listed property, where prehistoric Homo Sapiens made his first works of art over 250 000 years ago. And maybe ate some Neanderthals, too.
    Panoramic view from the southernmost tip of Carmel ridge
  2. Acco
    A sleepy provincial town, that accidentally is one of the places with the longest running history of human settlement anywhere on Earth. Acco has a small coastal village charm, with its little fishing harbour and seaside restaurants. But beneath (sometimes literally) this humble facade there is a historical record of epic proportions. Acco has Crusader underground tunnels that would impress Indiana Jones, fortifications that defeated Napoleon himself, the residence and burial compound of Bahá’u’lláh, an exiled prophet that founded a whole new religion, a prison where Bahá’u’lláh was held and where both Jewish and Arab rebels against the British rule were executed, a mosque that houses a hair from the Prophet’s beard. Its a wonder Acco doesn’t crumble under the weight of its own heritage.

    Crusader wall remains in the harbour of Acco

    Crusader wall remains in the harbour of Acco

    Acco seaside restaurant

    Acco seaside restaurant

    Acco's harbour

    Acco’s harbour

  3. Nimrod Castle
    All the way up North, sitting on top of a mountain, is Nimrod Castle. It commands the valley below, offering stunning views, and is situated in an area of exceptional beauty. The hiking and other outdoors opportunities here are too many to number. Whatever you choose to do, you can conclude with a meal in one of the many countryside restaurants and overnight in a local B&B.

    Flowers - best part of Nimrod's castle

    Flowers – best part of Nimrod’s castle

    Nimrod's caste massive walls

    Nimrod’s caste massive walls

    Nimrod's caste - with secret passages and all the other castle's must have's

    Nimrod’s caste – with secret passages and all the other castle’s must have’s

  4. The Samarian hills
    Most of the time I spent in Israel I lived in Ariel, in Samaria. I still have many friends living in the area, and I of course visit them when I am in the country. The gentle rolling hills, some covered in olive groves, others barren and rocky, with thorny bushes are genuine, true and pure Biblical landscape. I think it is impossible to get a feel of Israel without a first-hand experience of these hills, where so many stories of the Bible are set.

    Classic Biblical landscapes in Samaria, the heart of Israel

    Classic Biblical landscapes in Samaria, the heart of Israel

  5. Ramon Crater
    I have spent a significant amount of time in the Negev – Israel’s desert. And I’m lovin’ it. For me, the summum of the Negev is the Ramon Crater, a huge hole in the ground which is actually an erosion cirque. Besides the “usual” thousands of years of human history like prehistoric dwellings, ancient water storage systems and Nabatean Incense Route, Ramon Crater is jam-packed with geological sights. Pretty much everything about how the Earth was formed can be seen here, right on the surface. And since its the desert, there are few of those bore-some plants obscuring the view of the beautiful rocks. OK, I’m a geo-nerd, what’d you expect?

    Ammonites are common in Ramon Crater

    Ammonites are common in Ramon Crater

    Ramon Crater is desert in classical Western style - ol' school

    Ramon Crater is desert in classical Western style – ol’ school

  6. Timna valley
    Almost all the way down to Eilat, just 25 kilometres from the Red Sea’s coral reefs, lies a magical, mystical valley. Here at Timna lie the copper mines, where the metal for the copper treasures displayed in the Israel Museum (see Part I) was mined. This valley is as barren as it gets, and it is astonishing. Thousands of years of copper mining left here traces of pretty much all ancient religions. And the wind and water have eroded spectacular structures in the sandstone – King Solomon’s Pillars, The Mushroom, The Arches – if that doesn’t make your blood run faster, I don’t know what else will. Nearby kibbutz Elifaz offers lodging in comfortable air conditioned rooms or on a campsite in huge communal tents or in your own tent.

    The Mushroom rock formation in Timna Park (photo by Tiia Monto)

  7. Masada
    OK, this is not exactly off-the-beaten-path, as it is one of the biggest tourist attractions of Israel. But any “best of” list of Israel has to have Masada on it. Here’s why:A mighty king builds a magnificent palace in the desert, to serve as his refuge, a last resort, his ultimate fortress. After his death, the country rises in rebellion against his masters, the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Rebels take the palace and make it their stronghold. The empire strikes back (they really do), sending its best generals and strongest legions to crush the rebellion. The rebels are defeated, their country is in ruins as they retreat to the desert fortress. The empire’s legions lay siege on the fortress but the rebels hold out. Eventually, the sheer numbers of the empire’s soldiers win and the rebels are facing an imminent defeat. On the night before the final battle, which the rebels know they will lose, they choose to die as free men rather than live as slaves. The empire’s soldiers storm the palace, only to find the dead bodies of the rebels, and just 3 survivors who tell the horrible tale of that last night.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWl1HrmWhV0This is not a Hollywood scenario. This is Masada. And this is Israel – stranger, stronger, more fantastic than any fiction can ever be.

    2000 years old camps of Roman legions around Masada are well preserved in the desert air

    2000 years old camps of Roman legions around Masada are well preserved in the desert air

    Masada's Northern Palace

    Masada’s multistore Northern Palace

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