In Groningen, as is other cities in the Netherlands, the tourist Information office is called the VVV.
Although everybody in the Netherlands knows what the VVV is, it seems that hardly anyone knows the origin of the acronym. I looked it up, and found that it originally stood for Vereniging voor Vreemdelingenverkeer, meaning something like “Association for Foreigners’ Travel”. But this association has since changed its name to VVV Nederland, dropping the words and just keeping the initials.
So it’s sort of like the fnac stores in France, where everybody knows the stores but hardly anybody knows what the letters originally stood for. (The original name was Fédération Nationale d’Achats des Cadres, meaning “National Purchasing Federation for Middle Managers”, but they dropped that name decades ago.)
The VVV Groningen, in any case, is a rather gaudy little building on the Grote Markt.
Unlike the tourist information offices in neighboring countries, the VVVs in the Netherlands have numerous publications and souvenirs for sale, but not much to give away. This is a deliberate policy, designed to prevent people from just grabbing everything in sight even if they don’t need it. Nearly everything costs a nominal fee, which in German would be called a Schützgebühr (protection fee) and I suppose in Dutch would be something like nominale bijdrage.
Even a small map of the city, which would be free in most places, cost € 1.95 here. (It was a useful map, however, so I think I got my money’s worth.)
The only thing they gave me for free was a weekly folder of things that were going on in Groningen. In fact they gave me two of them, because I arrived on a Wednesday, and these folders give the theater, cinema and concert listings for the week from Thursday to Wednesday. Of course the theater listings didn’t help me because I understand too little Dutch, but I did find out about concerts and such through these listings.
The really nice thing about the VVV Groningen is that on one side there are lots of wooden steps going up to an observation platform on the roof. Lots of people climb up to take a look, as I did, and the local teenagers (Tiener in Dutch, Ados in French) spend hours sitting on the stairs. Since there aren’t any other decent stairs to sit on in Groningen, the building fills a real need, because of course all teenagers like to sit on stairs. That’s what they do.
On Good Friday I climbed the steps again to get an overview of the annual flower market (Bloemenjaarmarkt) at the Large Market (Grote Markt) in front of the City Hall (Stadhuis).
The center of Groningen is really full on that day. People who live in Groningen come in by bicycle, of course, but people from outlying regions tend to drive in by car, park in one of the parking lots or garages at the edge of town and take a shuttle bus to the center of town. So there are big shuttle buses constantly running back and forth. I don’t think anyone had to wait for more than two or three minutes for a bus to come.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2020.
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