Most people refer to Holland in the same way as they would to The Netherlands. They think Holland is the same as The Netherlands. Just to let you in on a little secret: this is wrong! Well, the difference is that The Netherlands came into existence after Napoleon. Nowadays The Netherlands consists out of twelve provinces: Groningen, Friesland, Drente, Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Utrecht, North-Holland, South-Holland, Zealand, North Brabant and Limburg. Two of the twelve provinces in The Netherlands have the name Holland, specifically North Holland and South Holland. The major cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague) are located in these two provinces.
Mid May this year was a good time to visit the Netherlands. I was lucky enough that the tulips were still in full bloom, the temperature warmed up enough for us to walk outdoors without layers of woolies and the sun did not set until 10 p.m., giving us plenty of time to tour the city.
There is plenty to do in Amsterdam. First off, one cannot help but to notice the 100 kilometres of canals which form concentric belts around the city.
The three main canals, Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht were dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age.
What better way to spend the day than to cruise down the numeous canals of Amsterdam in your private boat. From the water you can forget the traffic and discover Amsterdam at your own pace.
Or spoil yourself and go Canal Biking! Canal Bikes are comfortable pedal boats with room for five people. There are four moorings right in the heart of the city centre and you can rent a pedal boat from one mooring and leave it at another.
If I could I would want to live in a HouseBoat. If I get bored of the scenery I can always sail to another location ( or maybe not coz I think you need a permit and will not be allowed to moor anyplace your heart desires ).
Since I get sea sick easily, I opted to discover Amsterdam on foot. Strolling along Amsterdam Zuid ( south ), I saw many cute houses and noted that bicycles are a key part of the mechanism that makes Holland tick
I notice that on some streets you park your car backwards
Townhouses have the same address ???
I came to the conclusion that Dutch people are environmentally friendly
In most European countries you need to pay $$$ to use the loo, but in Amsterdam, it is free of charge
And thankfully some things are free because not everyone who lives here has a home
If you have extra time you can check out the three main museums : Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House Museum
Out of curiosity, I visited Amsterdams famous Red Light District. You are not allowed to take photos of the Amsterdam Girls and even though I had my SLR switched off, they got angry and verbally abused me when they spotted my camera
Perhaps many of the girls haven't told their family and friends about their vocation.
Note that if the window has a blue light outside instead of a red light, it is to indicate they aren't really technically women, or born as such. They are transgenders, transvestites, or any other type of homo sapiens. You would be surprised what is possible in this respect.
I did a bit of reading up and this is what I discovered :
- Around 1,000 prostitutes work in Amsterdam on any given day, and a few hundred of them work behind the windows in the Red Light District. Totally, the city has about 400 such windows, with the big majority of them located at the Wallen in the Red Light District.
- Both prostitutes and brothels pay taxes, and brothels need to have a permit.
- Prostitutes even have a union (De Rode Draad), although most prostitutes won't become members for various reasons.
- Prostitutes must be 18 at least. Occasionally, a younger girl is detected by the police, and this is seen as a very serious matter. Clients should be 16 at least, or the prostitute is in violation
- Amsterdam prostitutes behind the windows typically charge 50 euros for 15-20 minutes of oral sex and intercourse (both with a condom). Either one of those is 30 euros. If you want to stay longer, or do extra things, you usually have to pay extra, though a few offer extra services at no extra charge as their unique selling point.
- A recent municipal investigation suggests that more than half of the clients are foreigners (tourists, business travelers etc.). Most are between 25 and 45 and they're from all walks of life: there's no difference in income or education between them and the average population. There are almost no clients under 20. Casual observation suggest that many of the foreign clients are British.
- On average, Amsterdam prostitutes pay around 85 euros for a small room during the day shift, and 115 for the night shift. The ownership of the windows is divided between many small landlords.
I notice there were all types of girls white girls, black girls, asian girls, tall girls, short girls, think girls, obese girls.. whatever floats your boat huh ?
Amsterdam is also the land of legal drugs and I saw several shops selling powder like substance in the red light district.
Technically, it's illegal to sell and consume pot, but years of tolerance have taught the Dutch to look the other way. At least that's what they print in the tourist books. In reality, use is permitted only in designated areas so Dutch officials can keep an eye on people.
A haven for some and an oddity for others, coffeeshops are unique Amsterdam establishments where it's okay to smoke a joint. Walking into one of these joints is a trip all by itself. You are immediately enveloped by a cloud of smoke so thick it can induce a residual high without ever having to light up.
There are about as many coffeeshops in Amsterdam as there are museums. The "Hard Rock" of these is The Bulldog. Veterans will tell you to avoid the one in the Red Light District and instead visit its cousin in the Leidseplein. In addition to being less touristy (which in Coffeeshop-speak means better smokes) it is a favorite hangout of flight attendants in town on layovers. The Leidsplein Bulldog is known as the all-in-one stop because it has a bar next door to the coffeeshop, which makes it very easy to travel between the two.
The potency of space cakes has been reduced in recent years in response to the recurring habit of people wandering aimlessly through town after eating these crazy concoctions, so it is a safer practice than it used to be, but limit consumption to one per customer.
Since space cakes always take a long time to hit you, overdosing is not only possible, its quite easy. Its very common for people to eat one and then quickly grow impatient assuming the thing was really weak or contained no cannabis at all, only to consume another one or two with the hopes of hurrying things up or making sure a proper high is achieved. This can be disastrous when the first one really kicks in just a bit later, and then the other one or two kick in after that.
It worked fine for decades, but Amsterdam has now apparently has said enough is enough. It announced it will close half of the brothels (which would still leave quite a few of them) and coffee shops that openly sell marijuana to clear the city of organized crime.
This reduced the number of windows to 243 from 482 and closed about 35 of the 75 coffee shops.
On to something more family oriented.. you will see many flower bulbs on sale if you walk around Amsterdam in spring time
A visit to Amsterdam in spring will not be complete without a day trip to Keukenhof flower garden, also known as the Garden of Europe. According to the official website for the Keukenhof Park, approximately seven million flower bulbs are planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 70 acres
The garden was established in 1949 by the then-mayor of Lisse. The idea was to present a flower exhibit where growers from all over the Netherlands and Europe show off their hybrids, and help the Netherlands export industry (it is the world's largest exporter of flowers).
Keukenhof has been the world's largest flower garden for over fifty years.
Keukenhof is open annually from the last week in March to mid-May.
And is the perfect place to spend the day chilling out
The beauty of these gardens and the brilliant bulb flowers just cannot be adequately captured in pictures.
You may also choose to cruise through the bulb-farmers' fields nearby
I fell in love with the flowers of Holland and so made it a point to visit the Aalsmeer Flower Auction which is the largest flower auction in the world. Flowers from all over the world ( e.g. Kenya, Israel, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Germany ) are traded on a daily basis at the Aalsmeer facilities.
The auction building of the flower auction in Aalsmeer is the third largest building in the world, in terms of floorspace, covering 990,000 m². Heck it is so big that you need a bicycle to get from one end to the other
Around 20 million flowers are sold in this building every auction day
Five days per week the flowers and plants are auctioned at one of the 40 auction clocks at the different locations. The bidding process is a system with a clock running from a high price to zero. The potential buyers, mostly floricultural wholesale traders, are gathered sitting on the stands of a big auction room. The first person to push his buying button in his specially equipped buying desk is the buyer of (a part of) the auctioned lot.
The traders will receive their purchased lots within one hour after auctioning in their warehouse through the auctions internal transport system. After this the flowers and plants may be further processed into bouquets for export or trade on the Dutch market.
If you are not in Amsterdam in spring time, there are still lots of other places to visit. You can pop into Rotterdam which has the biggest port in Europe..
Or you can visit the 19 windmills of Kinderdijk which are inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list and are amongst the most popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands.
The windmills at Kinderdijk were built during the eighteenth century to pump water from low-lying land back into the Lek River. Although wind powered, these windmills are also known as watermills after the function they had to perform.
We arrived in time to watch the keeper set the sail cloth
What is that he is wearing on his feet ? Ooohhh CLOGS !
Me wonders if he wears it on a daily basis or it is for the benefit of us gawking tourists.
For a small fee, you are allowed to take a peek inside the windmill house which has some of the modern amenities which us urbanites are used to
Bedroom with television set mounted to wall.
We also made a trip to the harbor town of Volendam which is a popular tourist attraction well-known for its old fishing boats and the traditional clothing still worn by some residents.
Touristy but still charming
Good place to go sailing
The women's costume of Volendam, with its high, pointed bonnet, is one of the most recognizable of the Dutch traditional costumes, and is often featured on tourist postcards and posters. Unfortunately, there was no one in a pointed bonnet in sight and all we had for company were other tourists.
Hey.. who is that good looking hunk ? He looks familiar
( Please note that some of the text is lifted off other articles on the Internet but the photos are all original. The opinions expressed here are based on my personal experience )
[typographic edit only - MTF]