Archive for the ‘Netherlands’ Category

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“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” – Rosalia de Castro

So all these time I thought Holland and Netherlands are two different countries. Today, I was made aware that Holland makes up two provinces which together make up the region (Noord Holland and Zuid Holland), out of twelve provinces in the country of Netherlands. The name Holland is also frequently used to informally refer to the whole of the country of the Netherland. Due to the maritime and economic power of these provinces in the 17th century, the Netherlands became known worldwide as Holland. This led to a widespread recognition of “Holland” all over the world, especially in Europe where it began to be used as a synonym for what we now know as the Netherlands. Thus, a single region overshadowed the entire Dutch Empire.

To make matters even more confusing the inhabitants of the Netherlands are called Dutch, the use of “Holland” oftentimes a substitute for “Netherlands”. To be clear, the Netherlands are commonly called Holland in English and are not two names for the same country. Most of us have heard someone referring to the Netherlands as “Holland,” and some of us have even done it ourselves. But some Dutch might be offended if you call their country Holland: It’s much like calling the United States of America “Washington” or Great Britain “England.”

When the word Holland comes to mind there’s always a clear picture of green green grass of hope, herd of patched cows of black and white. Tulips, clogs, cheese, chocolates, and of course windmills. Growing up in front of the TV in the eighties Holland for me tends to be associated with a particular image that Birch Tree milk powder commercial a lady on a traditional dress (klederdracht) milking the cows on the greenery country side and all that The stereotypical image of Holland.

A short drive away from Amsterdam is Zaanse Schans, a Dutch village dotted with windmills and cottages. This historic village offers a preserved glimpse of what it was like to live in the Netherlands in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the village’s characteristic houses are now museums, gift shops or workshops while others are still used as private residences. Some of the Zaanse Schans’ remaining windmills are also open to the public and functional. The windmills produced all sorts of items from paint, mustard, oil, etc., we visited a cheese farm where there’s various sampling of cheese to taste. In one of the workshop, we had the opportunity to watch wooden clog-making which is actually interesting because I don’t think it’s a foot healthy choice to go around but in the olden days I guess we don’t have many options but in our modern world, most clogs include design features that cause foot pain and problems as some research indicates that the loads on hip and knee joints are significantly higher in people who wear conventional footwear than in those who walk barefoot.

Anyways, I was happy to be here. I’ve come a long way from that kid in front of the TV watching that milk commercial to seeing the iconic part of the Dutch landscape – windmills!

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“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” – John Green, The Fault in our Stars

We then moved on to Netherlands’ capital – Amsterdam referred to as the Jerusalem of the North due to its large Jewish population. The Jews from Spain and French Protestants found a safe haven here centuries ago. The name Amsterdam is derived from the city’s origins: it grew around a dam in the river Amstel. Locals referred to as Amsterdammer but the slang term is ‘Mokummer’ derived from the Hebrew ‘makom,’ which means ‘place.’ The city has more canals (165) than Venice and they have a large number of houseboats (2.500) and moreover they have a million bikes for 700,000 inhabitants, which make the city bicycle capital of Europe.

The official, native language is Dutch, but most people in Amsterdam also speak quite a bit of English. Dutch were the first Europeans to discover Australia and New Zealand in the 17th century. Australia was then named “New Holland”. New Zealand was named after the province of Zeeland .Tasmania was named after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman (1603-1659). Heineken and Gin was invented in the Netherlands and the latter was first sold as a medicine in the late 16th century.

It’s common knowledge that prostitution and drugs are legal in Amsterdam as the Dutch feel that it’s going to happen anyway  better to legalize and control it than to let it fester underground. Not all café are the same in this city so you better mind where you are going as ‘coffee shop’ is a place where you can legally buy soft drugs (marijuana or hashish), space cakes, coffee, tea, and sometimes freshly-squeezed juices and sandwiches and A ‘coffee house’ (koffie huis) is the same thing, minus the soft drugs and space cake.

Our local tour guide was a Filipino and he showed us around town by foot. He discussed that Amsterdam has the most museums in the world per square kilometer, i.e. total of 51 with the famous Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank house included. Amsterdam has beautiful churches and synagogues but most of them are no longer in service or no longer used as a place of worship, but now serve as concert venues, museums or even nightclubs or some churches held mass during Christmas day only.

We also explored Amsterdam’s underbelly Red Light District with our local guide or as the Dutch like to say it “De Wallen”, which literally means The Walls. It’s the oldest area in Amsterdam and the most famous prostitution area in the world. Amsterdam was founded around the year 1200 and soon after this the Red Light District was build.  In early days the Dutch build walls to protect the city against strangers. In later days, around 1850, these protective walls were broken down, since they became useless. He guided us through narrow cobblestone streets above wide canals and the ‘red light district’ of the city. I think this is one of the most vibrant and picturesque parts of Amsterdam being a liberal society.  A lot of people live and work in the Red Light District, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, museums, coffee shops, Chinatown, an old church, an arcade game room, restaurants, bars, clubs and smart shops are located in one place.

We went for a canal cruise inboard a glass-dome motor to have a good view of the city. You can see many narrow buildings; flanked gabled housed and charming houseboats line almost every canal.  You will see them with gardens on decks and roofs, with cushy upholstered chairs on deck, with tables and chairs for al fresco. We then visited a diamond factory called Gassan Diamond Factory for a tour where one can see how they are cut and allowed to see them up close and see more of the finished items for sale and much discounted price.