Venice of the North

Amsterdam, Venice of the North

“God make the world, but the Dutch made Holland” is a popular saying in the Netherlands.  They say that because due to their ingenuity and hard work the Netherlands is now twice the size it was 400 years ago.  The Dutch have used windmills to pump sea water over dikes, draining large areas for agricultural use.  The soil left behind is perfect for growing lots of things, but especially great for flowers.  20 million plants per day are exported from the Netherlands and currently 40-50% of the Netherlands sits below sea level. 

Back in the 1500’s the Netherlands gained its’ independence from Spain. Known for frugality, foresight and tolerance, the Dutch began to build a shipping empire and entered into their Golden Age.  They outlawed Catholicism, and welcomed Protestants and Jews into their prosperous society, at one time the richest in the world.

The Netherlands itself is a small country, about the size of West Virginia, however it’s one of the most heavily populated areas in Europe.  Many of us confuse The Netherlands and Holland.  The Netherlands is the country; Holland is a province within the Netherlands.  Actually, there are two Hollands, North Holland and South Holland.

Amsterdam is the most well-known city in the Netherlands, located in North Holland.  This coming December Kassey and I will be taking 82 people on a Rhine River cruise and will begin our adventure with a few days of exploration in charming Amsterdam, the Venice of the North.

Amsterdam, like Venice, is built on a base of wooden pilings.  The pilings underneath Amsterdam are oak, taken from the Black Forest in Germany.  The locals damned the Amstel River (which is where the name Amster-dam comes from) and hand-dug a series of over 100 canals.  Today you can set sail from Amsterdam and travel all the way to the Black Sea along the river ways.

In Amsterdam the people take a very pragmatic approach to modern day issues.  Prostitution, for instance, is legal.  They tax it, and offer healthcare checkups to the workers.  Marijuana is also tolerated.  In Amsterdam coffee shops sell marijuana, Café’s sell coffee.

Amsterdam is home to some of the most renowned art museums in the world.  The Van Gogh museum contains thousands of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh (a Netherlands native) and his contemporaries.  The Rijksmuseum features a fabulous collection of the Dutch Masters (Rembrandt, Vermeer and others)

The Anne Frank house is another top tourist attraction in Amsterdam.  If you arrive without a ticket be prepared to wait for hours to purchase one.  Did you know Anne Frank’s diary is now available in over 70 languages?  Stalin said the death of a million people is a statistic; the murder of a single person is a tragedy.  The world still mourns the tragic loss of Anne Frank.

Bikes are the main source of conveyance in Amsterdam.  In a city of less than 1 million people there are well over 1 million bicycles.  There are even multi-level parking garages for them.  It is imperative to look both ways before crossing a street in Amsterdam.

What would you do if you were taxed according to the width of your home?  You’d build skinny and tall, wouldn’t you?  In the 1600’s that’s exactly what the Dutch did in Amsterdam, leaving behind a city that offers tourists and locals alike a gorgeous step back in time.

If you haven’t been to Amsterdam now is the time to add it to your bucket list with pricing to Europe at all-time lows.  I hope to see you on the canal cruise!

Joy Gawf-Crutchfield owns and operates The Joy of Travel.  Contact Joy at 918-339-4805