It was definitely a unique experience for a somewhat guided tour.
The French, unfortunately, decided to strike, which I guess happens a lot at the port, and the under two hour ferry ride took six hours as we couldn’t enter the port until some people ended their demonstrating. From Calais, we drove the coach off the ferry to Holland.
We stayed at a noncommercial style hotel called Lake Land in Monnickendam. The area is, obviously, flat and a beautiful country scape. It’s quiet and a nice change from the city of London, which we had been staying in for three months. While the hotel’s buffet style dining may not be for everyone, it’s a fun atmosphere for seniors (who were dancing to the beat) and young people.
Holland is wicked flat. And by wicked, I mean very. No mountains or even hills, and there are canals big and small everywhere. Some are few feet wide and some are several yards wide. Canals are also used like fences. It’s common to see a simple gate and canals used to keep sheep and cows on a plot of land.
Heading into the city – Amsterdam - there is more flat land and a lot of construction going on whether it’s of buildings or on roads and highways.
Once you hit the city, you will know it. There are rats nests of bikes everywhere, and everyone is on a bike.
Because the city and country is so flat, it’s easy to walk or bike everywhere and anywhere. Amsterdam also has a good public transportation system, which there are tracks for the above ground seemingly everywhere.
The city itself isn’t a skyscraper city or even quite like London. Things are more small and cute. But the essence of Amsterdam is an openness and cool that no other region can compete with.
Yes, prostitution is legal and there are coffee shops (they don’t sell coffee) on ever corner. But the fact that people don’t seem to judge you when you walk down the street is quite impressive.
You can visit the red-light district and it’s perfectly safe, or that’s what it seemed. Prostitution is some people’s career. It’s viewed as nothing to poke fun at and has been a huge part of Dutch culture since the times of great painters like Johannes Vermeer. One thing that is frowned upon is taking photographs of the district’s doors and windows where women and men might be at work. And, if you are wondering, according to our guide, if the light is red and on, the room hosted by a woman is open for business. If the light is blue, it usually means there is some sort of “mixture” or male element.
There are many kinds of museums and attractions for everyone alike. One day we checked out the Anne Frank House, where for a 20 minute wait in line, visitors can tour the house where Frank and her family went into hiding.
Outside of Amsterdam, tourists can tour clog and cheese factories such as the one we visited in Monnickendam. Clogs are still made and worn today, though it may seem they have become a bit of a tourist attraction. The idea behind clogs is that they are lightweight, water proof for those canals, and hard to protect worker’s feet.
Another Dutch cultural excursion to take is a trip to a tulip farm, like Keukenhof. The tulip has historically been a part of Dutch cultural and very much is today. Visitor’s can tour tulip field’s, gardens, and greenhouses filled with the most amounts of tulip arrangements you might ever see.
The openness of Dutch culture is truly remarkable. We met a group of Dutch guy friends who we thought were our age or much older. In fact, they were all younger than us, but because of their casual normalcy of alcohol and acceptance they seemed so much older. We chatted with them and it seems because they are “so experienced” with these “things of life,” alcohol, drug use, and the like are not as big a deal as they are in the U.S. They said, some people they know haven’t ever smoke marijuana because they know it’s there and they can do it any time they wanted. The Dutch guys also told us we weren’t spontaneous. I won’t defend myself and say that’s true. I like to consider myself spontaneous when I decide to randomly go on a bike ride and take photos. But I’m not sure I can compare myself to these guys who say, when they want to enjoy life and have a good time, they will. As an American, my night ended with me feeling like I should “enjoy life more” by going mini-golfing at random or hang out with people I’ve just met.
Holland is definitely a culture that people can learn from, not just have an exciting and beautiful trip to. I will definitely be back to Holland, soon, I hope.