Arrived at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam early on the morning of the 24th. As I walked towards the baggage collection I heard background noises of birds singing, what a beautiful welcome sound to the land of cheese!! I was also very impressed by the toilets that automatically flushed themselves. It shows I am just a girl from the platteland!!
My dearest cousin, Petro and her baby daughter, Sien drove all the way from Breda to pick me up. Breda is a city 85 km south of Amsterdam. When I arrived it was 12 C, and I was getting rather cold, coming from sunny South Africa. Petro kept telling me that it was warm!
My biggest amazement was the amount of people that cycle in Holland. It was remarkable, especially for me because I love cycling!
I arrived on the Friday so my dutch family took me sight seeing the whole weekend.
25 March 2011 - Kinderdijk
The Netherlands is famous for its windmills. Today there are still more than 1.000 mills. Nowhere in the world you will find as many windmills as near Kinderdijk. Around 1740 no less than 19 sturdy mills were built here. They have been well preserved to the present day.
The mills drain the excess water from the Alblasserwaard polders - which are situated below sea-level - after which the water is sluiced into the river Lek (the Rijn).
The powerful mill sails serve to transmit the force of the wind on to large paddle-wheels which scoop up the water. Nowadays power-driven pumping engines do the job, including one of the largest water screw pumping-stations in Western Europe.
Arjen, Petro, Sien
26 March 2011 - Rotterdam
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam constructed in 1270 on the Rotte River, Rotterdam has grown into a major international commercial centre. Its strategic location at the Rhine-Muese-Scheldt delta on the North Sea and at the heart of a massive rail, road, air and inland waterway distribution system extending throughout Europe is the reason that Rotterdam is often called the "Gateway to Europe".
We took a ferry on the river and had lunch at the New York Hotel where I had my first meal in a Europe restaurant, Fish and Chips for sunday lunch - 11 euros.
The Erasmusbrug is a cable stayed bridge across the Nieuwe Mass river, linking the northern and southern halves of the city of Rotterdam. It was designed by Ben van Berkel and completed in 1996. The 802 metre long bridge has a 139 metre-high asymmetrical pylon, earning the bridge its nickname of "The Swan".
After a great weekend, I took a train up north to Giethoorn to visit a friend I met in SA while doing a yacht course. (This was the first time I had ever used the train as a means of transport).
Giethoorn is a village in the Dutch province of Overjissel. It is located about 5 km southwest of Steenwijk. Giethoorn used to be a carfree town known in the Netherlands as "Venice of the North". In the old part of the village, there were no roads (nowadays there is a cycling path), and all transport was done by water over one of the many canals. The lakes in Giethoorn were formed by peat unearthing.
Erik-Jan picked me up at the train station, we then had to park his car at a public parking area and walked to his cottage. This place is amazing! You can only walk, cycle or row your boat if you want to get somewhere.
Erik-Jan took me out on his boat and I got to see the village from a different angle. We went to a little restaurant and ate traditional dutch food. Fried chips with satay sauce and frikadellen (processed meat formed into a sausage served on a roll with mayonnaise). Interesting!! They like their deep-fried food!
This was truly an amazing experience. To see people still living like this was surreal. Erik-Jan cooked fish and rice for dinner and we enjoyed it with a bottle of Bukettraube from Groot Constantia. He bought the wine when he was in SA and was kind enough to share it with me. I spent the night and got a lift to Amsterdam the next day.
Got dropped off early the next morning in Amsterdam. I didn't have a clue what to do or where to go. Erik told me to put my credit card and passport in my boots because pocket picking is a well known act in Amsterdam. I first thought to myself, "I come from Africa, this is nothing." But took his advice.
I first took a river cruise and saw most of the main tourist attractions. The amount of bikes in this city is mind-blowing. They say that the canals are 3m high. 1m sand, 1m water and 1m bicycles!!! Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly large cities in the world and is a centre of bicycle culture with good facilities for cyclists such as bike paths and bike racks, and several guarded bike storage garages (Fietsenstalling) which can be used for a nominal fee. In 2006, there were about 465,000 bicycles in Amsterdam. I was also fascinated by the architecture Many buildings were constructed in the architectural style of the Renaissance.
After the river cruise I joined a tour guide. I met two canadians on the tour and asked them very nicely if they would mind going with me to the red light district (I think they were more than willing)!
I got high just from the second hand smoke in the air. Going to bars where only marijuana smoking is allowed, was a first for me!