Monday, 5 March 2012

There is still Nederland beyond Amsterdam

Typical landscape near Blankenham, Overijssel.
 Recently, while reading the blog A Flamingo in Utrecht, or more especifically, the post An Open Letter (of sorts) to Travel Publications, I thought how unfair it was that when tourists come to the Netherlands, they generally seem to think that only Amsterdam is worth visiting. It is indeed unfair to the rest of the country and to themselves, because they are missing out a whole country. What's more, if those tourists then go back home and claim that they've been to the Netherlands and that they now know all about the Dutch, they are practically lying.

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.
 The beautiful architecture typical of the Dutch Golden Age can be admired and photographed till you drop in cities like Delft, The Hague, Middelburg, or even little dear Zwollywood, as I like to call my own city of Zwolle.

A beautiful stepped gable in the city of Bolsward, in Friesland.
The imposing City Hall of Middelburg, in Zeeland.
 The two restaurants in the country that boast three Michelin stars are not in Amsterdam - one is in Sluis, in the province of Zeeland and the other is in .... surprise, surprise, Zwollywood, where De Librije restaurant is, besides, the first Dutch restaurant ever to get a Michelin star in the whole country.
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.
 As for the museums, yes, Amsterdam has wonderful ones that you have to visit if you want to see the great masters. But there are great museums in other Dutch cities as well where you can also see your favourite van Goghs, Vermeers or Rubens. How about the Mauritshuis in The Hague with its large collection of Dutch painters such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, Steen or Hals ? Or the Kröller Muller museum located in the setting of the beautiful Veluwe National Park and its very important collection of van Goghs, Picassos and Modriaans?

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.


janeduttonutrecht.wordpress said...

this is a wonderful post. you are absolutely right. it is the same thing when people think that new york city is the only thing worth visiting in the state of new york. you have done every one a great service.

Aledys Ver said...

Yes, you are right. People make the same mistake with countries all over the world. But in the States, though NY might get the centre of attention, people also visit other cities, other regions of the US. Here it seems that they never get to leave Amsterdam. It doesn't make any sense, because it's a very small country, ergo, easy to reach other places in a very short time.

PS: It worked, thanks! ;)

Ellie Foster said...

Dear Aledys
I loved your photos - you have highlighted some lovely areas in the Netherlands. It is the same in the UK as there are the major tourist places, London, the Cotswolds, the Lake District, Cornwall, but there are so many other places with their own charms that get missed. I am sure it is the same all over the world.
Best wishes

Presépio no Canal said...

Concordo inteiramente. Nem mais! Thumbs up! ;-))
I also enjoyed to read Alison's post. Very good too!
Netherlands is not only Amsterdam. There are other amazing and interesting places to visit. I like very much Deventer and its Dickens Festijn, and Bredevoort, the bookstore town. Zwolle, Middelburg, Giethoorn, Amersfoort, Hindeloopen, Alkmaar are among my favourite towns. My favourite province is Zeeland (reminds me a bit of my country ;-). The Gooi' region is also nice, as well the provinces of Friesland and Limburg. These are my favourites. Other nice places to visit are Efteling, Palace Het Loo, Castle De Haar.
Gelderland and Drenthe I don't know so well. I need to explore them more as well as Terschelling and the other West Frisian islands (I only have been to Texel).
I like A'dam, but I'm not crazy about it. That's why I don't go there very often (once per month maybe). So I have few posts about it, but a lot of them about other places in the NL. ahaha
Thanks for the restaurant's tips ;-)
Five stars post, Aledys! As usual! ;-)

Aledys Ver said...

@Ellie Foster,
well, in the UK people do still travel around a bit, even if it's to popular places and they leave other (probably a lot more beautiful) places out. But here it's a whole country that gets ignored! :(

Aledys Ver said...

The list is long, isn't it? I've been to so many great places in the NL that it will take me years to actually get round to post about them all! :)
I do like Amsterdam and I am going to post about it, of course. It's a great city to spend time and explore different areas and aspects. My point is that it's not just the only place worth visiting.
PS: You made my day by including Zwollywood in your list :)

Alison said...

Wonderful post! And thanks for mentioning my latest rant. ;) You mentioned so many great points and places of interest, and that's just the tip of the iceberg! Just taking the train from Amsterdam to anywhere else in the country will give you some beautiful views of the countryside, making it worthwhile to leave A'dam. ;) Then you get all the wonderful sights to see at your destination. We'll keep fighting the fight and get people to see more of the country, one blog post at a time. ;)

Aledys Ver said...

Who knows, we might be doing sth good here and succeed in getting a handful of tourists to visit other places in the NL as well! :D

Presépio no Canal said...

I think the same away. It is important to visit other places and publish posts about it. The expat community could do a lot about it, broading the horizons to the tourists. The blog "Adventures with Jaap" , for example, offers very interesting information about Limburg and its surroundings.

Thank you too to put Almere in your list :-)

Aledys Ver said...

I will take a look at "Adventures...", sounds good, I like Limburg very much and I haven't explored it as much as I would like yet. (Except for Maastricht and Valkenburg, one weekend)

titabuds said...

Ahhh, as I told Alison, I am glad (and a little smug) that because I've been reading your blogs for quite some time, I think I know more about Zwolle and Utrecht than about Amsterdam and am a huge deal more interested in exploring those places someday.
You guys are doing a great job. :)

BLOGitse said...

Good post!
You're so right about capital/big cities vs. rest of the country.
One problem is limited time when traveling.
Are you going to visit Helsinki this summer? We could visit also Porvoo and other interesting places less than hour from here! :)
Today it's shining again! I'm so happy!

Aledys Ver said...

Limited time is not so much an issue here because distances are too short. In no time you are at the other end of the country (From my Argie point of view, at least!)
I'd love to go to Finland. I am trying to organise myself (i.e. save money) to do a long distance trip within Argentina this year, so I am not sure I'll be able to travel too far from Holland before my anual trip. But I will go, no doubt of that! :D It'd be great to have you as a tourist guide! (do you charge much...? hehe)

Aledys Ver said...

Thanks! To be sure, there are lots of wonderful places to visit around the NL. If you ever come this way, I'll be happy to show you around.

Ana O'Reilly said...

It's interesting that such a small country offers so many diverse places to visit.
Sean lived in Scheveningen for a while and he had to practise saying the name a few times before getting into a cab!

Aledys Ver said...

Oh I know what it must've been for him to try to say that word! :) But imagine that during the war when the Allies liberated the NL, to prove that you were Dutch and not German, they asked you to say "Scheveningen". Pronounce it wrong and you were taken prisoner! :)

Invader_Stu said...

You are so right. Holland is a beautiful country and it is such a shame when tourists don't get out there and experiences more of it. I like Amsterdam and all but it does not give the best impression of the country as a whole.

Aledys Ver said...

It is a shame - there are so many interesting and beautiful places and travelling around is quite easy - the railway system is good and the country is not so big, is it?

VagaMundos said...

There is much more to see in Holland than Amsterdam, we totally agree! Beside Amsterdam we already visited Roterdam, Utrech, Haarlem, Amersfoort, Arnhem, Alkmar and The Hague and we still have a lot to discover :)

Aledys Ver said...

Wow you got to see a lot! But then, you are expert travellers - unfortunately, not everyone seems to bother exploring around.

A Touch of Dutch blog said...

This is an excellent post [so is A Flamingo in Utrecht's] - I love your photos! I'm especially jealous of the Giethoorn photo because I never visited that village... I will when I make a future visit, though ;-)

Droomvla said...

Nice post and love the pictures! :)

Katie said...

Your post should be compulsory reading for anyone planning a trip to the Netherlands! Sadly, I think a lot of countries suffer from this problem when foreigners come to visit, including Argentina and the United States. So many people travel to Buenos Aires or New York, and they come away thinking that they saw the true Argentina or the real United States. Of course, like Amsterdam, these are key cities with tons to offer, but there's so much more to see. And the Netherlands has the advantage of being fairly compact, so really I don't see a reason not to get out and explore while visiting! Just don't stop by Starbucks or Aledys will get very upset. hahaha

Aledys Ver said...

@Isabella/Amy/A Touch of Dutch :)
Giethoorn is a very charming village to visit,especially in the summer. Should you ever come back to the NL for a visit, put it on your list of places to go to ;)

Aledys Ver said...

It's good to see you back! Thanks!!

Aledys Ver said...

Like the good fussy Italian I am, you better not ask me to take you to the Starbucks :) (kidding!)
You are right, the Netherlands is so compact and public transport is so good that there's no reason to not see other cities or places in the country.

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

For an expat Dutchie like me this is such a great post! Glad you took the time, and the photos make me homesick! My family now all live in Friesland, the north, a very rural place (you know, of course) and it's wonderfully peaceful there and definitely not Amsterdam, which I love as well, of course.

I'll be back in July, and looking forward to seeing my own country again!

Aledys Ver said...

I think Friesland is my favourite part of the Netherlands.. the landscapes, the small beautiful cities, the history and the culture! I even have a Fries passport :)
I'll be great for you to be back and visit your family and be able to speak Dutch (or Fries?) again!

Georgina Zinno said...

Nice to read about it, this post is a sort tribute to the real Dutch Way.. nice effort to spread a bit more curiosity.. Greetings
(I was wondering if your were going to write it also in Spanish..)

Aledys Ver said...

Yes, I intend to translate it into Spanish (ironic, eh?) as soon as I can.
Thank you!

DeeBee L. said...

Thank you Aledys for visiting my blog! :) I just love your blog, this post is amzing, and am looking to learn more about Holland, as i have only been to Amsterdam so far and I love it. My daughter wants me to take her there, and i will during spring when i cna show her the flower marker, but i would like also to go outside town and viist the tulip frams and the mills! A bit silly but there are so beautiful. Holland is like any other country, you have to make the special effort of setting off the beaten tracks! i might ask you for your advice when time comes! DeeBee x

Aledys Ver said...

@DeeBee L.
Thanks!! Wonderful that you are planning to come to the NL. If you are interested in the tulips, April is the month to come. Do contact me if you need any info. or tips, I'll be glad to help.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, it is so true, there is so much more to see

We are staying here this Summer to explore Holland!

Roadrunner said...

This is the real Netherlands. said...

Couldn't agree more. No doubt about it, Amsterdam is a fascinating city, but it's like visiting New York City and believing you've seen the US. Once again, your photos rock!

Andy watson said...

nice feelings expressed..For love..
travelling in nederland is one's dream.ssuch a beautiful place makes travelling expereince more can hire a car to explore it more with loved a car online and get a hassle free service.

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