|Typical landscape near Blankenham, Overijssel.|
Amsterdam is not the same as the Netherlands. It has a culture of its own, rich, varied, cosmopolitan, liberal... it is a great city to explore. I like Amsterdam and I go there quite often myself for a day out, meet with friends, visit museums or take photos. But it is still just a part of the Netherlands.
Alison -author of A Flamingo in Utrecht- explains why tourists normally make the mistake of limiting themselves to exploring Amsterdam while vising the country or of even thinking that if they've seen Amsterdam, then they've seen the Netherlands. Travel publications seem to be intent on creating this impression on tourists. When they want to feature the Netherlands, they report about Amsterdam. I've seen it myself back in Argentina. Distant family members or friends would call me and tell me they've seen a travel show about the Netherlands. I know that if I take the trouble of watching the show myself, I see giddy tv presenters having the time of their lives visiting the Sex Museum or some shop selling a very particular kind of mushrooms. As if that was all that there is to Amsterdam. What's worse, as if that is all there was to the Netherlands.
Amsterdam has the canals; yes, it does, and they are listed as UNESCO World Heritage, granted. Amsterdam has the tulips. Amsterdam has the Red Light District. Amsterdam has the coffeeshops. Amsterdam has the typical step, neck or spout gabled houses, great old architecture. Amsterdam offers a wide variety of restaurants, museums and attractions. It is all true.
Well, would you be very shocked if I told you that you can find all these things in most of the other Dutch big cities? You will find alll these things and more, for you will also discover what makes those cities different from Amsterdam and worth visiting as well.
There are beautiful city canals in Utrecht, and they are unique, because they are lined with wharf-basement structures that create a two-level street along them. If you are looking for some more idyllic hobbit-like views, then how about Giethoorn in Overijssel or any village in Friesland with their thatch-roofed houses and lovely bridges crossing over canals.
|Canal and bikes in Utrecht.|
|Giethoorn, known as the Venice from the North.|
Flevoland, the youngest province in the country (and also man-made) has the largest bulb area (ergo tulips) in the country and has a special bulb route that will take you along the most magnificent endless tulip fields and along picturesque polder villages as well.
|Tulip fields in the Northeast polder in Flevoland.|
There are Red Light streets in every city in the Netherlands and yes, they are legal and they are controlled by sanitary authorities and kept safe by the police. There are also coffeeshops with their share of soft drugs in other cities around the country, though as of January of this year, it is illegal for foreigners to smoke in these coffeshops in the three southern provinces of the country. Good news for you if that's what you are after: the Netherlands has 9 other provinces, besides Limburg, Zeeland and Brabant.
|"Goodies" displayed in a window of a tattoo shop in a city of Friesland.|
|A beautiful stepped gable in the city of Bolsward, in Friesland.|
|The imposing City Hall of Middelburg, in Zeeland.|
If you are a foody, you may want to explore the zeeuwse cuisine of Zeeland or the bourgoundisch cuisine of Limburg and Brabant.
|Apart from the first Dtch restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star in the country, Zwolle offers an extensive variety of excellent restaurants and cafés.|
And what can we say of the landscapes? To admire the typical Dutch landscape and its incomparable natural light, you simply have to get out there.
|Windmills somewhere near Alkmaar in North Holland.|
|Engelse Werk in Zwolle.|
|Ice skating in Overijssel.|
|The Mauritshuis museum in The Hague.|
Seriously. There is so much more to the Netherlands besides Amsterdam.Take a train to The Hague and go to the beach in Scheveningen or Kijkduin; or to Delft and visit Vermeer's house. Take your car and ride along the Alfsluitdijk, the 32 km long surge barrier that has cut off the Ijsselmeer from the North Sea. Do some reading, ask, surf the net - nowadays it's not that difficult to find the information you need. Move around a little or a lot - but go back home with the satisfaction of having seen the real Netherlands.
With this in mind, I have added a new tab to this blog under the title Visit the Netherlands. There I will be posting links to all the entries I publish related to places to visit or things to do and see around the country. I hope it can be useful to anyone planning to travel to the Netherlands or even to those of us living here and planning to spend a weekend away from home or to take a day trip with family or friends and do something fun.