On a bus tour in Amsterdam, our guide carried an orange flag. I thought no more of it than as a sign to help us locate him in crowded areas, in the midst of so many other sightseeing groups. Somewhere along the way, he explained that ‘saffron’ is their national colour and they are very proud of it. They put it on every banner and poster in their country, and then I started noticing. There are even stores, simply named ‘Orange’. Not in our country alone, does ‘saffron’ evoke so much passion and emotion. Only, for us, the colour also arouses a lot of controversy as well.
Amsterdam, beautiful, as everyone can see from pictures, is an amazing place, besides being the home of the famous painter, Rembrandt, and Anne Frank to whom is dedicated a museum – the same building in which she and her family hid during the holocaust. The Jewish influence on Dutch history, of course, goes much beyond Anne Frank’s diaries because the Jews had settled here long before World War II. There is a tourist spot called Jewish Cultural Quarter displaying the Jewish lifestyle and culture. Here also, is the famed Gassan diamond factory which treats you to an amazing display of the various stages of processing diamonds. (They also give you free coffee!)
Amsterdam is full of waterways, like Kerala. You criss-cross the canals over quaint little bridges or commute by boats plying all through the day. A Hop on-Hop off ticket not only allows you to hop on and off buses, you can also hop on from bus to boat and back. Amsterdam is located by the sea, the Zuiderzee. It was an inland sea in the early 20th century and the biggest battle fought by the Netherlands was to reclaim land from raging seas by constructing several dykes (water barriers) and polders (low-lying lands protected by dykes). Even now 40% of the country, as the name itself suggests, is below sea level.
This kind of terrain, especially in farm lands, requires special wooden clogs. Most tours take you to factories where clogs are designed and manufactured. You can also buy miniature clogs as mementos. The clogs, windmills, the lion and tulips are Dutch national symbols. By chance, we happened to be there on the country’s National Day or King’s day – 27th April, the birthday of King Willem Alexander. It was a long holiday and the weather, very sunny. People were outdoors, celebrating and enjoying the warm weather. Our woollens and warm clothes (mandatory for us, as European countries are always cold ) turned out to be quite a burden. But our guide kept telling us that the weather was unpredictable – it would rain any day and then it would get cold.
There are many kinds of local transport available – express trains, metro, tram, buses (here also you can buy a common ticket). In the city itself, there are cars but the favourite vehicle of the Dutch is the bicycle. Everyone cycles – young, old, men, women – from everywhere to everywhere. A tourist can also hire a bicycle at many places. Special lanes are reserved for cyclists on every road, which are constantly in use. Rows of bicycles are parked at the end of bridges or in parking lots.
Through most of our Europe tours, I had carried packets of instant foods like ‘upma’ ‘poha’ ‘khichdi’ (of a brand called Visavi) and of course, ‘theplas’. Though Indian food is available in most places, the outlets were often way off our routes and wallets as well. But in Amsterdam, the main streets (straat, as they call them), are lined with Indian food outlets easily accessible. There are a variety of continental and Mughlai cuisines also available for the more adventurous, as well as delicious pancakes on street sides!
About an hour or so away is Old Holland where the fishing villages of Volendam and Edam are located. Here, one can visit cheese factories and even sample and buy cheese. Not only is the cheese manufacturing very elaborate, the variety of cheeses is also amazing. One can cruise along quaint little fishing villages, also see windmills in operation in neighbouring Marken. The famed tulip gardens are in Keunkenkof, Holland. It is indeed paradise – with such a huge variety and colours of tulips and many other flowers. The garden is vast and despite signboards, one can get lost again and again. There is a ticket for this garden, so if you enter, be prepared to spend at least 2-3 hours.
In case you have missed out on any sight or place of interest, no worry, Madurodam, a memorial dedicated to the war hero, George Maduro, replicates the whole of the Netherlands in miniature. Here you can relive your entire tour in a short duration as well as indulge in several activities and interactive games.
The natives get a lot of exercise cycling and with waterways and windmills still in use, more clean air – no wonder, the happiness quotient of the Dutch is one of the highest in the world!