As soon as the train crossed
borders into Holland, everything went � er � bland. Nothing different.
Nothing exciting. Nothing � Dutch!
Except for the cows. Fresian
cows (dairy cows which are white with black patches). Hundreds of
them on rich green pastures surrounded by narrow canals. Windmills?
Forget the plural tense here. I only saw one. And a pretty poor representation
at that. The buildings were old. But nothing like the beautiful ancient
buildings of Germany and France. These were just grotty old buildings.
Devoid of history or character. And as I got closer to Amsterdam the
picture remained the same, and my opinion of Holland didn't change
until I ventured out into the city streets.
Well, what can I say. Character?
If you haven't been to Amsterdam, you don't know what you're missing!
People go to Venice and
are amazed at the city with its waterways. Well, Amsterdam is something
like that. Most of the main roads in the city are actually canals.
Dozens of them. And the atmosphere is akin to that of flee markets.
Everyone's casual. Everyone's sitting in cafes or pubs drinking beer
(this is the home of the world famous Amstel and Heinekken beers).
Everywhere there's people
walking, people riding bikes (seemed like there were nearly as many
bikes as in China!) � people living. Or as Gottfreid, one of the LETS
Gurus of Holland, told me the following day, "Here we are in Amsterdam
enjoying life, where the others are enjoying status."
Holland is a small country
(by European standards) with a population of only 16 million people.
I'm told that you can ride your bike to a foreign border in only half
an hour. And Amsterdam is so small that if you get a flat tyre, you
can walk your bike home, no matter where in the city you live!
But the mode of transport
that really caught my attention was a tiny little 2-seater car, much
smaller than the popular Smart Car which inhabits every country in
Europe. This little 2-seater (sorry, I didn't get the name) can be
seen driving on footpaths, parked on bridges and basically going anywhere
a bicycle goes � quite legally! Because it's only available for use
by disabled people. Not something I'd want to go on a long drive in
(I think it's got an egg-beater for a motor), but definitely great
for short city trips.
Thankfully, almost everyone
speaks English in Holland. In fact, schools teach Dutch, English,
German and French to all the students. And it was a treat to see English
films on TV which weren't dubbed (like in Germany and France).
Some time ago a very clever
chap suggested they could reclaim land from the sea, and presto, today
30% of Holland is made up of land that would normally be below sea
main international claim to fame is their Red Light District. Admittedly,
apart from windmills and wooden clogs, this was my only other association
whenever I thought about Amsterdam. And since I'd already seen my
windmill, and wooden clogs were definitely not being worn any more
(at least in public), I made sure to take a short walk through the
Red Light District one night. It was quite an experience seeing flimsily
clad women displaying themselves in well lit shop windows, much like
live mannequins. But ever so embarrassing for me. So after 2 hours
I'd decided I couldn't stand the embarrassment any longer � and so
I went home.