Visiting the Netherlands: A real Dutch treat

Skinny houses in Amsterdam were built out of practicality because homes were assessed for taxes based on their footprint. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Skinny houses in Amsterdam were built out of practicality because homes were assessed for taxes based on their footprint. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

We had the good fortune to visit The Netherlands a couple of years ago.

It is certainly an interesting country with a fascinating past. Amsterdam is one very appealing city. There are so many museums to visit, tall and skinny houses to see, many bicycle riders to dodge (bicycle riders have the right-of-way), delicious street food and canals lined with houseboats that walking or bicycling is almost required to see it completely.

Roxanne Rowley

Roxanne Rowley

There are about 17 million people in The Netherlands (Holland is a nickname for The Netherlands). Amsterdam, the capital, is also the largest city with a population of just under 900,000 people. The word Netherland means lowland. Over the years The Netherlands had reclaimed land from the sea using those famous dykes and windmills to keep the sea out. They planted sturdy plants that removed salt from the dirt and eventually created fertile farmland.

Yes, there is the infamous “red light district” in Amsterdam, but it is a mere blip on the map that is overshadowed by beautiful churches, boutique shops, cheese stores and wonderful museums.

Since we were in Amsterdam on my birthday that year, my truest wish was to spend the day at the Van Gogh Museum. What a pleasure to see favorite works of Van Gogh like the Potato Eaters, Sunflowers, Irises, Almond Blossoms, self portraits and so much more.

Van Gogh (1853-1890) suffered from depression and his paintings reflected his lows and highs — some were dark and sad when he was depressed and others were light and happy when he was feeling well. Sadly he died by his own had when he was only 37.

The Netherlands are home to many windmills. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

The Netherlands are home to many windmills. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

When we left the Van Gogh Museum we were delighted to find out that a huge craft market and about 20 food trucks awaited us in the square outside the museum. It was a third Sunday of the month event, so our timing was fortunate. We enjoyed some time looking at crafts and munching some of the famous Dutch French fries (friets) served with homemade mayonnaise.

Amsterdam is also the home to the Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage (with works on loan from the famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia), Rembrandt’s House, the Houseboat Museum, Vondelpark and other sights too numerous to mention.

Ann Frank House is where Ann and her family hid during Nazi occupation during WWII. It is a spellbinding, yet sad place to visit. Imagining what it would have been like to hide for more than two years in such a crowded space is mind-boggling. Ann wrote her famous diary there that still inspires today.

Our Lord in the Attic church museum is a Catholic Church hidden in the top floor of a home. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Our Lord in the Attic church museum is a Catholic Church hidden in the top floor of a home. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

One quote of hers that sticks with me is, “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

What an extraordinary teen she was to find hope in the middle of the awfulness of Nazi occupation. I wish she could have reached her full potential.

Our Lord in the Attic church museum is a Catholic Church hidden in the top floor of a home. For two centuries (1578-1795) Catholicism and other religions in Amsterdam were illegal but tolerated. When the hard line Protestants took power in 1578 churches were vandalized, clerics were kicked out. So Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Dutch Reform religions gathered in private homes to worship.

Luckily this church was preserved as a museum so we can see this part of history. The stairways are more like ladders to each floor, with a rope to hang onto. The third floor is where the church is — complete with a gilded altar, statues and several pews. So glad that period of time has been preserved in such an interesting museum.

Keukenhof is a huge bulb-flower garden open only for two months in the spring; there is 80 acres and 7 million blooms. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Keukenhof is a huge bulb-flower garden open only for two months in the spring; there is 80 acres and 7 million blooms. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

We found out that the reason for tall, skinny houses quite practical. Homes were assessed for taxes based on their footprint. So the homes were built with several stories with a small footprint. Getting from one floor to the next required some dexterity because if there was a staircase it was very narrow. Merchants had their business on the ground floor and lived in the two or sometimes three stories above the shop. Some of the homes we saw were built in the 1600s and some are still lived in today.

Not far from Amsterdam is Keukenhof. It is a huge bulb-flower garden open only for two months in the spring. We were lucky enough to be there amid the glorious riot of color — 80 acres and 7 million blooms. There were literally carpets of flowers that created beautiful shapes. I had no idea there were so many colors of tulips. Plus there were flowering trees and a magnificent greenhouse filled with even more colorful flowers. We were there on a clear spring day with a cloudless blue sky, which made for a perfect visit.

The Van Gogh Museum is a popular spot to visit in Amsterdam. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

The Van Gogh Museum is a popular spot to visit in Amsterdam. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Zaanse Schans is an open air museum that reminds one of Greenfield Village. Only this village is filled with windmills and old homes that have been moved to preserve their history. It is a recreated 17th century Dutch village. It was fun to go into some of the windmills and see how they worked.

Volendam is a charming little fishing village not far from Amsterdam. We found a small eatery that served delicious fish and chips (fresh fish from that morning, of course). We shared a small table with a local couple. They spoke Dutch and we spoke English. When we were done eating Dick (my husband) took their plates, along with ours to place in recycling. They thanked us, in English, and we proceeded to have a nice conversation about their family, their country and our travels. It is amazing how that small act of kindness by my husband allowed us to enjoy that pleasant chat.

Perhaps some day we will travel back to The Netherlands to learn even more about the country and explore additional museums, eateries and meet interesting people.

I like what Mark Twain had to say about travel, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness . . . “I would say those are great reasons to keep on traveling.

Roxanne Rowley is a retired early childhood educator and consultant. She enjoys writing and has had numerous articles published related to early childhood issues.

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