My Breda story begins in 2014, the year I packed up and moved from Romania to the flat-lands. Decisions had to be made, goodbyes had to be said. I moved here for love, my partner is Dutch. So I’ve been visiting The Netherlands for some years now, hopping and popping from one place to the other in the south. By this time I’ve seen most of the country’s highlights, managed to assimilate some words and Dutch directness. Having eventually located in close proximity, I couldn’t help but hear people kletsen (chit-chat) about the place to be at, Breda. As someone who spends way too much time behind a monitor, my first contact with Breda came through Google Maps. “Zooming in, ok, Street View, there we go. Where do you keep your secrets, Breda?”. Fast forward to 2015, the city remained essentially the same while it changed me.
Chill and take it slow
For someone who’s here for the first time, I have a one-word advice for you: chill. Breda likes it slow and steady. There’s a calming but reassuring vibe hovering around. At first glance Breda could be mistaken for a yuccie playground with corporate outskirts. Idealistic people who sell their ideas and views in the forms of one-man companies, corner-shops, boutiques or lifestyle concept stores. Breda makes me feel inspired but it also foreshadows the need to prove one self. It’s a small city. Everyone knows everyone. Spending my first summer here I went from overstressed chipmunk to laid-back otter in a matter of weeks. I made it through the paperwork maze, taken Dutch classes, worked freelance, got my Cambridge exam, solicited for jobs, looked for volunteering. As I made more friends during various borrels, I came in contact with the cultural movement here. Like a southern-belle, the city oozes Brabantian gezelligheid (non-translatable word for all things relaxed and pleasant). Now it’s hard to imagine myself somewhere else. The Netherlands was never on the list. But here I am, cool and calm. And with my new-found love of all things Breda, it looks like I’ll be remaining here for years to come.
Allow the city to reveal itself
Do you own a bike yet? You’ll need it. Breda is keeping all its apples in one basket – the city center. Oval shaped, water guarded and complete with a Burgundian architecture, the Breda center is a delight for your senses. Above all adding richness to its fortified city history. The city’s heart is well, car non-friendly. Sure, it’s not the Amsterdam or Copenhagen level of bike heaven but if you want to actively get around, biking is your weapon of choice. Here fietsers rule the streets in an exhilarated freedom of movement.
I recall the first time I came here, as a newbie tourist. I instantly fell under the spells of the all-seeing tower of the Grote Kerk, the beautiful Gothic church that you cannot possibly miss. In the Barones Shopping Mall, ‘t Ginneken, Sint Annastraat and ‘t Sas, the name of the game is shopping. Or window-shopping. Lots of it. Consumerism is at all time high everywhere, including Breda. People leading a life of double standards, drinking organic smoothies while browsing leather bags. Initially I played my trips here by instinct, discovering everything as I went along. As for now, I know where to get my geek on, where to sip a voluptuous latte or where to get an Argentinian stake for my taste. Naturally, there’s a constant mutter in the city, an ever evolving discovery of places and people. Which is fun.
Breda is just big enough to please every tendency. Though there’s so much more to this city than meets the eye. Nevertheless, if the central hotspot is not your cup of tea, take your pick from a variety of places and sights to see. I for one love nature and musea. With the Valkenbergpark, the Spanjaardsgat water gate and the Castle of Breda so close, I can get away from the fuss at a stone’s throw away. It’s quiet here – lekker chill. Oh and I am yet to look forward to a boat trip through the canals of Breda! Progressive enough, the city hold its own with several modern architecture hot-spots such as The Museum of The Image (MOTI), the concert-hall Mezz, the Chassépark Theater and the Central Station. Without a doubt inspiring places for all lovers of arts.
Taste the goods
If you’re here to enrich your palette, you’re definitely in the right place. Breda embraced me with its leisure diversity. And don’t get me wrong, this is not the copy-paste scenery you see in some European cult-cities – every cafe, pub or restaurant holds a piece of its owners soul on display. People are friendly. Spontaneous conversation sparkle at every corner. The Dutch are curious. It’s a dance of culinary arts, an organic, down to earth feeling complimented by excellent wines and fashionable boutiques. There’s character in these nooks and crannies. People come here to enjoy themselves, complain about the weather and try something heerlijk.
As a market dweller, I am so happy with the numerous markets in the city. There’s one almost every day. A play of colours and sensation, fresh fish, snoep, old books, fruits and veggies. There’s no haggle, there’s honesty.
The movers and the shakers
There’s no shortage of cultural events in Breda. This year I soaked in as much as possible of the annual Jazz festival, definitely the biggest non-entry fee jazz event I’ve been to. The locals love their music. The going-out agenda is filled with varied local events, from the Dancetour Breda to International Redhead Day to TedX Breda. Always open to find out more, the residents will quickly accept you as one of their own. The Breda nightlife is promising. I am not particularly an avid club goer however the ones I’ve been to ranged from great to “we should go”. But I do love the peacefulness of the city at night. It’s a safe place (or as safe as it gets). I mean it’s not everyday you get to see people in their pajamas walking their dog at 1AM.
The local music hall, Mezz, holds weekly concerts and events in its great peanut shaped hall. Counter culture representatives play hide-and-seek in Breda. Similar to a modern Babylon, Breda has a decent subculture of alternative-lifestyle afficionados. My type of folk. Lawyers hiding their tattooed sleeves under stiff suits kind of people.
So what makes Breda that different?
Breda is not the best city in the world and it doesn’t strive to be either. In fact, it’s downright monotonous. What it does achieve is creating an environment for us all to live and evolve as humans, in a sense of home. There’s a place for anyone and everything here. Breda is beating to the drum of its own heart. And to conclude my little eulogy to this great city: it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.