I find Dutch incredibly difficult to pronounce. Even though it shares a common root with English – some words are exactly the same in Dutch and English – the pronunciation frequently leaves me baffled. Although I’ve been learning numbers thanks to my neighbour’s daughter, who chalked them on the steps leading to my apartment, Dutch is seemingly beyond my grasp.
I think the Dutch acknowledge this, even if they might not admit to it. Otherwise why would the virtually unpronounceable ‘s-Hertogenbosch be more commonly know as Den Bosch? Even I can pronounce Den Bosch. ‘s-Hertogenbosch literally means Duke’s Forest, and there was once a castle and forest here, and presumably a Duke.
We visited Den Bosch to go to the truly fabulous Hieronymous Bosch exhibition, organised to celebrate the 500th anniversary Bosch’s death. One of my colleagues mentioned that Den Bosch was a lovely town, with a unique canal system that goes underneath the town’s buildings. He recommended spending a bit more time there. I’m glad we did, it’s a fabulous place in a part of the country that attracts few tourists.
Even if there hadn’t been an internationally renowned exhibition of the town’s most famous son, Den Bosch would have been worth a visit. The centrepiece of the town is the fantastic medieval marketplace, a vast open space surrounded by traditional Dutch buildings and outdoor cafes. This is where Hieronymous Bosch lived as a child, and where he had a studio in later life.
Visible above the rooftops, and just a short walk away, the grandiose Gothic Sint-Janskathedraal towers over the town and sits on a large open square. A church was built here in the early 13th century, but was knocked down to make way for the cathedral, which would only be completed in 1530. Dying in 1516, Bosch never got to see it completed, although it was under construction the entirety of his life.
The cathedral has magnificent stained glass windows, something of a rarity in the Netherlands. A €48 million renovation of the building was completed in 2010, as part of the work 25 new angel statues were created, including one wearing jeans and using a mobile phone. Scaffolding has been constructed creating a tour of the exterior, on which you can see the new angels. Sadly it was fully booked.
Perhaps the nicest thing about Den Bosch is just wandering its narrow cobbled streets alongside its picturesque canals. It’s an atmospheric place. The canals are unusual, rather than winding their way alongside buildings like elsewhere in the Netherlands, they go underneath them. There is a boat tour of the canals lasting around 90 minutes, which was too long for us on this visit but will provide a reason to go back…possibly for the Bosch Parade in June.