Spotlight on a contributor

What is your name and where are you from?
Femke van Iperen, I am from the Netherlands

What is your business or what do you do? (i.e. study, internship, etc.)
I am a freelance journalist, I write background features, and I translate English to Dutch.

When was the first time you were in the NL? Was it fun? Was it an adventure?
I was born in the Netherlands, but lived and worked in the UK for nearly 30 years and have recently returned.

How long have you been writing for The Holland Times?
I think my first piece was in March 2018.

What attracted you to be a contributor to THT?
Now that I am back, it is great to be able to write and reflect about the Netherlands, its people, its culture, to people that are in the same situation as I was for all those years: quite new to the whole thing.

What is the best thing about writing for an expat magazine with such a wide circulation?
Particularly when you write for a readership that was not born in the country you are writing about, and even more so when it is a running story, you need to provide some background here and there. You cannot assume the reader knows what the topic is all about. And since I have been away for so long, I really enjoy doing that; the chance to properly emerge myself into a topic and its history, and provide a kind of overview.

What subject is your favourite to write about?
I like most topics, and I have enjoyed writing about education-based topics for the Holland Times, as well as those related to nature and animals, such as the goings-on at the natural reserve of the Oostvaardersplassen. In the past I have written about niche subjects such as aerial rescue, for a mixed readership ranging from pilots to military and medical experts, and I enjoy the chance to delve deep into a topic I might otherwise not know anything about. Plus, I try to write in such a way that most people can understand it, especially in case of mixed readership. But what I relish the most is writing about topics that are positive and uplifting.

Is writing a hobby or an aspiration for you? Do you write for your regular job or studies?
I have always enjoyed writing, even at school. Although I write a bit less recently (I am going through a bit of a lifestyle change), I have been writing as a freelance feature writer since my postgrad diploma at the amazing London School of Journalism, many moons ago.

Who is your favourite writer? What genre do they write in? Or are they a journalist, scholar, etc.?
I particularly like reading books. But I don’t really have a favourite writer. For example, I may read a book one day and love its writing style, but for the life of me, cannot see its appeal when I read it again years later, or vice versa. Also, rather than reading the latest books, a book that I enjoy can be anything from an old classic such as Bronte’s Jane Eyre (all that ruggedness, the openness of the Moors, the weather reflecting the characters’ moods, it’s great to be able to disappear into a book), to a random book you come across in one of the little quaint ‘free libraries’ that are dotted around the country. These simple boxes with a glass front can be found on the street in front of people’s homes, and I think it’s a great concept. You can be lucky and find some great books there, and then leave them again when you are finished with them. How great is that!

What do you like best about the Netherlands?
I guess I have to say the terrace culture! A terrace is easy to find anywhere in the country. With your coffee, your apple pie with whipped cream, or that little biscuit you get with it, sometimes a little shot of advocaat with more whipped cream, a newspaper, and watching the world go by: what more do you want!

What do you like least about the Netherlands?
The Netherlands has become quite densely populated since I left it all those years ago and, after having been quite spoiled with the quieter surroundings of those sleepy villages of the South coast of the UK, I find life quite noisy in the Netherlands, especially in the province of Utrecht where I spend a lot of time!

Where do you recommend a new expat or visitor to see here in the Netherlands?
I am currently spending a lot of time near a town called Harderwijk, which is a Hanseatic city. It is on the lake called Veluwerandmeer, and with its new boulevard it offers places to dine al fresco along the water in the summer. Together with its couple of little beach cafes, you would be forgiven to imagine yourself somewhere on a beach near the sea! But, other than the beach and promenade, Harderwijk has a bit of everything: history, an old town, an ancient town wall and a huge cathedral-like church. It also borders the national park De Veluwe, which offers endless walks in nature. Its typical coniferous trees, which make an amazing sound in the wind, look great against a blue sky. The forest-rich areas are interspersed with sand drifts, basically open sandy spaces with no vegetation, and they make for nice variety on a walk. There are benches to sit everywhere. Unfortunately, I have not seen the wild deer that live here.

Best kept secret in your city?
As mentioned, Harderwijk has an old town, with on the west side of town the old wall. Just off the boulevard there is an old fishing square, leading through the old city gate, the Vischpoort (Fish Gate). I came across it by accident last time. There is nothing to it if you are looking for something spectacular, but I love the simplicity, look and calm atmosphere of it. Nearby is the large church, and large open square full of terraces. Since returning (I now feel like an expat here!), I have discovered that the Netherlands has lots of quintessential little ancient Dutch towns and this is one of them.

What are one or two things you recommend to new expats here in the Netherlands?
New expats might need to get a little used to the directness of the Dutch! They really do say it as it is here (“sorry!” the English part of me wants to add!).

Besides the stark contrast in landscape, what are the differences you see/experience between the Dutch and the British countryside?
I have to admit I am quite biased, as I love Great Britain and all its sweeping ruggedness, those never-ending views into the distance, hilly landscapes and ancient footpaths that go everywhere. But pretty much every place in the world has good and less good bits, and I am finding other things in the Netherlands that I like now that I am back. I love the sand drifts I mentioned, which are kind of magical. Such sand drifts are usually attributed to local human interventions in the landscape, but now it is also being said that some of the larger ones of the Midden-Veluwe are a natural phenomenon. For example, this site mentions how they are ‘geomorphological developments of a scale that exceeds local human intervention’ ( Who knows, but things like that can just feed your imagination, can’t they?

Written by Marla Thomson