Out of the box travelling destinations
Thinking about places to visit when travelling the Netherlands, the small town of Deventer about 125 km south of Groningen scarcely comes to mind. But this town of only 98,000 inhabitants has surprisingly much to offer.
The fog and rather dim autumn weather on a Wednesday morning cannot hide the charming beauty of Deventer’s centre. Around the wide Brink square lined with cosy cafes and crowded restaurant, one gets lost in small alleys that are home to numerous little shops and hidden treasures.
The “Waag”, a medieval building once used for weighing, is the eye-catcher on the square. It is now host to a historical museum and the local tourist information.
Sophie van Nimwegen has worked there already for 22 years. “Deventer is a very lively place”, says the likeable lady with her owlish glasses and many laughter lines. “You can also learn a lot about medieval history, trade and the religion at that time. Together with Zutphen, it is the only city in the Netherlands which was a medieval city. We have 600 monuments here in town.”
64-year old artist Jan van Driel from Kampen also likes the historical aspect of the city. “I draw the Waag because it is such a nice old building”, he says, creating an accurate picture with his quick pencil lines. “I was here yesterday already and I liked it. So I came again.”
Exploring the town away from the square, the first thing to notice are the colourful umbrellas leading the visitor into smaller alleys. Hung on strings between the buildings, the umbrellas give the surreal image of floating in the air.
Shop assistant Claudia Baumeester, 26, thinks they are very beautiful and effective in drawing people into this part of the city. “I love the small streets here in Deventer most. You don’t find only all the standard things that you find in other cities.” Working in the “Hoge Ramen”, Claudia sells colourful clothing, toys, kitchenware and about everything else in a breathtaking colour pot-pourri to her customers, who are often tourists.
Visitors of the 27-year old local institution easily get lost in the building that doesn’t seem to end anywhere – a feeling that might come familiar in the rest of the umbrella streets. Next to cute cafes and creative shops offering wool, special Monopoly editions or pop-art, second hand book stores wait for patient customers.
Fans of Hugh Grant will inevitably be drawn into the store “Notting Hill”, where 51-year old Ineke Praastink-Wessels tells her story. “I was born here, actually. After leaving for my studies, I came back. Deventer is such a nice city. It is small like a town but sometimes it has the cultural things or music of a city. I like it that way. It is nice to know people. Still, if you want to, you can be anonymous. Not if you have a shop of course”, she laughs.
Together with her husband, Ineke ran the book store “Das Gute ist immer da”, only 20 meters away. This January, she decided to open her own store as to have more space for their books. “I am interested in English books, so I took the English literature here. The name popped into my mind, after the movie of course. It sounds good, so why not?”
Visitors with an interest in books should also consider coming in August, explains Sophie back in the tourist information: “On the first Sunday in August, we have the largest book market of all Europe with over 800 book stalls”.
Referring to further events and activities, she says: “We have the toy museum here. We have two beautiful churches that you can enter all the time for free. There is the Dickens Festival, and the festival “Deventer on Stilts” with a whole drama exposition where people walk on stilts.”
The Dickens Festival on the weekend before Christmas is also María Garal’s favourite time of the year. The 44-year old university lecturer describes the festival as “the best opportunity to discover Deventer in its glory. You will experience the beauty of the old centre, the enthusiasm and pride of the citizens and above all the welcoming spirit of our town.”
Also during the whole year, the street art in Walstraat gives hommage to Charles Dickens and his creations. “I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year”, quotes one of the countless shop windows.
Walstraat also hosts the high tea restaurant “Tea Rose” which is a great place to relax after having walked around town for a while. Entering the place hidden behind a shop and a terrace covered by wine leaves, the visitor can choose among 100 different sorts of tea and a selection of hearty lunch menus. Waitress Moniek tells that Walstraat is her favourite place in town with all its nice shops and old buildings.
Another great option for relaxing on a tour through the centre is the cafe “A taste of Honey”, back in one of the umbrella streets. Find the way to the terrace by following the colourful shoes attached to the ground next to the building. Inside the cafe, vintage decorations, good coffee and a variety of different bagels await you.
Energized by a tasty lunch, the town can be explored once more. Some of the options are diving into extensive shopping, losing oneself in the colourful street art or walking along the shore of the Ijssel, Deventer’s river. As there are 600 monuments to be seen, it might be considerable to come back another time. Maria puts it this way: “As Dickens said: stop saying I wish and say I will…visit Deventer!”
This article was first published in Unlocked Magazine in January 2015.