Netherlands and Holland tend to be used interchangeably. This is inaccurate as the country is the Netherlands and Holland is just one of the 12 provinces making up the Netherlands. We were based in North Holland, which is north west of Amsterdam.
Flying into Schiphol Airport makes you realise just how flat the Netherlands is, with 26% of the land below sea level. Vaalserberg, the highest point at 323m is at the southern tip on the borders of France and Germany.
This is a land of dykes and canals with small white bridges across them. Amsterdam with all its canals is often referred to as the Venice of the North. There are boats everywhere, moored in front of houses or tied up in marinas.
The land is very fertile with open fields with few hedges. Trees grow along the sides of the roads and act as shelter breaks around farms. In the north are the “bulb fields,”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/holland/page_three/index.html
brightly coloured in the spring with every colour imaginable.
The bicycle reigns supreme and there are over 700km of dedicated cycle lanes along the main roads. In towns and cities, cyclists have priority over pedestrians. Many people have two bikes. Bikes do get stolen, so they use an old bike for work, keeping their more expensive bike for weekend use.
The road network is good and Holland really understands the concept of an integrated traffic system with links between rail, trams and ferries.
The Krabbersgat naviduct is the world’s first naviduct and was built between 1995 to 2003 at a cost of €55million, to link the Markermeer and the IJsselmeer. Previously difference in the water levels between the two caused by wind surge limited traffic between the two and caused long traffic delays. Water levels between the two are now managed and the canal carries shipping above the road.
Older houses were made of wood and typically painted in black or green. Many still survive in the smaller towns. Later houses were built from brick.
Many of the buildings were constructed on reclaimed land which is unstable as well as wet. Houses were built on wooden piles driven deep into the ground until they reached a solid layer of rock, firmer sand or compacted clay. Some of these are now beginning to rot resulting in subsidence and some of the houses beginning to look decidedly out of true. In the C17th and early C18th houses were deliberately built with the front of the house leaning forward. One suggestion for this was that it facilitated the lifting of goods up into the attics.
In the older parts of the towns and cities, modern architecture is carefully designed to complement the old.
The Netherlands was the country of the windmill with over 10,000 windmills designed either to lift water or to grind cereals, oil seed or to produce pigments for paint. Now there are less than 1000 left. The windmill at Keukenhof gardens must be one of the best photographed although the inside has been gutted. One of the best collection of working windmills can be seen at Zaanse Scans, which has six working mills.
My full report and pictures can be found “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/holland/index.html