More lockdown armchair travel and today, N is for The Netherlands, and some memories of a few visits to that delightful little country over the years. So, what do you think of, when you think of The Netherlands? Probably here:
Amsterdam, Amsterdam, de stad waar alles kan. So sang Maggie MacNeil in the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest. But The Netherlands is more than just Amsterdam. Leiden, for example, is a beautiful city – home to (amongst other things) the Windmill Museum.
You can see the workings of a windmill really close up – and it’s a fascinating experience.
When we were in the Netherlands in 2009, we also visited Rotterdam, famous for its cube houses. They’re an extraordinary feat of architecture!
We also visited The Hague, seat of government and a pretty grand place all round.
But with humour
But most people just want to see Amsterdam, and it is a pretty special place. Lots of bikes…
Did I mention the bikes?
Possibly the best way to see Amsterdam is from the canals, and on our last morning we took a canal boat ride. The things you notice…
You expect Van der Valk to walk around any corner. I’ll leave you with a look at our canal boat
Some old Delft tiles
and a pleasant drink on a street corner.
I know there’s much more to Amsterdam and the Netherlands than I’ve been able to share with you today but hopefully this gave you a little insight into what some of it is like!
Yes it’s that time of year again. As sure as night follows day, the Eurovision Song Contest bounces breezily back onto the stage of a European city, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with a whole new gamut of the best ever/worst ever songs to titillate your fancy/send you to sleep and make their mark on the continent/never get heard again (entirely up to you, gentle reader, as to which you delete). As ever, I’m here with my trusty youtube app and sharpened pencil to give you the run down of each of the forty songs that will affright the air at Vienna in a couple of weeks’ time. We’ll be starting off with Semi Final One, and the 16 songs in the order that the producers have chosen in advance to write off the chances of the countries they don’t like, I mean, create a sequence for the most exciting musical show from the resources given them. Once again, I’m also giving you the betting odds, courtesy of oddschecker.com (taking all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places each way, as at 5th May) and also giving each song a star rating out of 5. On y va!
Moldova – Eduard Romanyuta – I Want Your Love
We start with a song that seems to have met with some derision, although personally I don’t think it’s half bad. Eduard is a 22 year old student, writing his PhD on “tax policy of Ukraine in the context of European integration”. Can’t help think he might have missed the boat on that one. The song is dedicated to an ex-girlfriend, and given his driving habits in the video, I hope any future girlfriends are well-insured. Eduard rocked the crowd at the London Eurovision Party and I thought he was a pretty good performer. It’s got lots of funky moments, and I have a tendency to join in with his “picture that you’re paintin’ got me all anticipating”, much to the embarrassment of all concerned. I heard someone say that if this song had been from Sweden, the fans would have been all over it like a rash; but as it’s from Moldova, they’re not. 100/1 – 200/1. ****
Armenia – Genealogy – Face The Shadow
Of course, in the Grand Final, to perform second in the running order is the complete kiss of death. It’s not quite so disastrous in the Semi Finals, but nevertheless if there is anything to help this appalling dross out of the contest as quickly as possible, that’s a blessing. Genealogy are six Armenian singers, plucked out of worldwide obscurity for no apparent reason other than the fact that they are Armenians scattered throughout the world, singing a hokey, grim ditty about world peace. Originally it was called Don’t Deny, but simply changing the title hasn’t helped it one iota. Horrendously derivative, totally tedious. According to Eurovision.tv, for good luck before a performance they hold hands and say random Armenian words. I wonder what is the Armenian for “wtf are we doing here?” 33/1 – 80/1. *
Belgium – Loïc Nottet – Rhythm Inside
Here’s a song with a bit of atmosphere, if nothing else. Loïc moods all over these three minutes with his very portentous “I’m gonna get that rhythm back”. Aged just 19, he’s quite young to have lost his rhythm, poor lad, so I do hope he sorts it out ok. A lot of people like this but I find his English accent rather irritating – I’d have preferred it in French. And that rapapap stuff just makes me cringe. Next time he shoots a video, I recommend he takes a brolly. The androgynous look does nothing for me, although I suspect I’m not the target demographic. 33/1- 66/1. ***
Netherlands – Trijntje Oosterhuis – Walk Along
All those “j”’s in her name really put you off don’t they – think of her as Traincher and it’s much easier. An experienced Dutch singer with absolutely nothing to do with golfer Peter Oosterhuis (although watch to see if she’s wearing 70s checked trousers on the night). An instantly appealing pop song, with a catchy tune and a chorus that reminds you of a Geordie with his finger caught in the car door. Maybe slightly repetitive after a while but still very enjoyable and it’s a thumbs-up from me. 66/1 – 150/1. *****
Finland – Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät – Aina Mun Pitää
Finnish songs can be Marmite, and punk rock isn’t (perhaps) at its most natural home with Eurovision, although it’s a broad church and everyone’s welcome. Amongst the more unusual aspects of this entry is the fact that it’s all over in less than 1 minute 25 seconds, all four members of the group have developmental disabilities, and that it’s a raucous din. Alas, these guys are not the new Lordi. Personally, I think it’s the worst song in the contest. It’s so short, they could reprise the entire thing and still be within the time limit. It’s not even long enough for a proper toilet break. Its relatively short odds can, I think, only be put down to a misplaced and patronising sympathy vote. It’s a no from me. 12/1 – 22/1. *
Greece – Maria Elena Kyriakou – One Last Breath
This year’s Eurovision is notable for a plethora of very worthy strong female ballads, which I think, on the whole, will cancel each other out, leaving the winner to come from another genre. However, the first of these strong female ballads to get an airing this year is possibly the best. We saw Maria Elena Kyriakou at the London Eurovision Party and I have rarely seen anyone more stunningly beautiful, and she delivers the song with great style and presence. Very classy indeed. 50/1 – 125/1. ***
Estonia – Elina Born & Stig Rästa – Goodbye to Yesterday
Goodbye to Yesterday? That old Melodi Grand Prix entry by Blue Moon Band that got nowhere in the 2007 search for a song for Norway? No. This is a very different kettle of fish. Elina and Stig present a very modern and dark look at a relationship split, with his sneaking out the door without waking her up, and its video with its undercurrent of suggestions of domestic violence (her on him). Not a lot of laughs here, but then it is Estonia. It’s a really strong, thought-provoking, sad and strangely beautiful song, sung with loads of conviction and it’s definitely my favourite of this semi-final. Highly fancied, a song that will last. 5/1 – 11/1. *****
FYR Macedonia – Daniel Kajmakoski – Autumn Leaves
No, not Nat King Cole’s old classic, but Daniel Kajmakoski’s entertaining blend of ballad and ethno-pop. Daniel won the first series of X-Factor Adria, and he’s got a great voice. I really like this song – it’s simple, heartfelt and delicate, but I wonder if it might get a little lost after the grand drama of Estonia. Watch the video to see a charming cartoon romance. I hope it does well and I think it will qualify. 40/1 – 100/1. ****
Serbia – Bojana Stamenov – Beauty Never Lies
The message of Serbia’s song is that not only is beauty merely skin deep, but you have to look deep inside to find the real beauty of a person. I can imagine few people who could put this message across better than the incredible Bojana Stamenov, whose powerful, larger-than-life presence gives the song some amazing oomph. The video is good fun, with fans all over the world contributing their own performances. An excellent song for anyone who’s got a few scars – mental or physical – and isn’t afraid to show them. Strong singalong tune too. Rather like Bojana’s dress size, this just keeps on growing. 50/1 – 125/1. *****
Hungary – Boggie – Wars For Nothing
If you were asked to imagine what someone called Boggie might look like, I’ll wager a pound to a penny you wouldn’t have come up with the impish loveliness of this year’s Hungarian singer. She was born Boglárka, which makes more sense. She came to prominence with her video of Nouveau Parfum, which I would highly recommend to you. Wars For Nothing is a quiet anti-war song that is so laid back it can barely stand up by itself. Whilst there’s no doubt its heart is in the right place, for me this song commits the cardinal sin of being just a bit boring. She sang it at the London Eurovision Party but I can’t say that I actually remember her performance. Sorry. 50/1 – 125/1. **
Belarus – Uzari & Maimuna – Time
Now here’s an unusual thing – for the second year in a row, Belarus have kept with the same song that won their national final! Time is an uptempo pop song from singer Uzari and violinist Maimuna, who certainly lends some class to the proceedings. Uzari has the nastiest case of aural metallurgy I’ve ever seen; he’ll never get through the airport security scanning unaided with those things attached. It’s quite a funky song, with its pretty-music-box introduction and thumping chorus. I can see them all doing the Military Two-Step to this in all the Minsk hotspots. 33/1 – 100/1. ****
Russia – Polina Gagarina – A Million Voices
This year’s annual Russian juxtaposition between caring lyrics, human rights and warmongering comes from the delightful Polina Gagarina, another stunningly attractive woman with a belter of a voice. The video features lots of cute kids and a lovely old couple in an attempt to make you think the Russian government values international peace. It’s a strong, anthemic tune, and Polina delivers it assuredly and with vigour, but I think she’s better than it is. I’m sure the technical team will be active on the night to fade out the boos. It’ll do very well, I have no doubt. 12/1 – 20/1. ***
Denmark – Anti-Social Media – The Way You Are
Four clean cut lads recreate a retro 60s sound with this simple feelgood chant. No hidden message, no subtle agenda, just a plain old pop song about love. It puts you in mind of summer sunshine, a few beers and some happy days. Co-written by the chap who co-wrote Superstar for Jamelia, so he probably knows a thing or two about what makes a good song. The group have only been together a few months, let’s hope they continue after May 23rd. 80/1 – 150/1. ****
Albania – Elhaida Dani – I’m Alive
I often find myself struggling with Albanian songs. They’re usually too serious for me, performed by a female singer with just too much angst. This year it’s the same, only lesser so. Originally they chose Diell as their song but it was replaced in February, and the new song is definitely an improvement. Elhaida is a great singer, who triumphed in The Voice in Italy in 2014. This is one of those female ballads that will get eclipsed because of all the other female ballads. I would like to like this more than I do. But I don’t. 33/1 – 66/1. **
Romania – Voltaj – De La Capat (All Over Again)
Time for a moving little song about the plight of Romanian children left behind at home while their parents move abroad for work. It’s part of a charitable project set up by the group that you can read about here. Voltaj have been going for about 20 years now and have nine albums to their credit. Without the background knowledge of what the song is about, it’s really just another quite nice song. With that background knowledge, it takes on a much nobler feel. Hard not to love it. 50/1 – 150/1. *****
Georgia – Nina Sublatti – Warrior
Semi Final One ends with the first of this year’s songs called Warrior. At first you think this is going to be really powerful, then it all drones on to become rather samey and dull. If you thought Ruslana was like Xena Warrior Princess, Nina’s warrior is a whole new form of scary. Don’t watch the video before bed unless you want nightmares. And surely it’s the only song in the whole wide world to feature the word “oximated”. Nina’s a fine performer and there’s a helping hand in the production from Thomas G:son, but it fails to live up to the sum of its parts. 66/1 – 150/1. **
So what do you reckon? Six songs won’t qualify and I’m going to suggest they will be: Armenia, Finland, Hungary, Georgia, Moldova and Greece. Semi Final One is on BBC3 on Tuesday 19th May at 8pm. The UK can’t vote in that semi-final, so just watch for fun! And I’ll be back shortly with a preview of Semi Final Two. A bientôt!