We visited the 700-year-old capital city Amsterdam, which is sometimes called the "Venice of the North" because it has so many canals. We toured this wonderful City of Canals via a canal cruise. We saw many ornate mansions, gabled facades and humpback bridges. Amsterdam is known for its historic port, its flower market, the Rijksmuseum, its red-light district (de Wallen), its liberal coffee shops, its many canals and Central Station where more than 20,000 bicycles park daily on a tiered parking structure as seen on the right.
Cycling in the Netherlands is a popular way to get around. Cycleways come with their own sets of rules and systems in Amsterdam - including traffic signals/lights, tunnels and lanes. There are also parking garages for bicycles. This is a picture of one of the garages.
Amsterdamers are a cafe society and are very attached to the old time coziness of their cafes and smoke houses. There are said to be over 1,000 of these sanctuaries including one that supposedly has not closed its doors since it first opened in 1574.
The "Gentlemen's Canal" was the most stylish address during Amsterdam's golden age. We found the smaller houses on other canals more interesting architecturally but they were all beautiful. Amsterdam has over 1200 arched bridges which are all lighted at night to showcase them. Our canal cruise went by Anne Franks's House, which is one of Amsterdam's most visited sights.
We also visited the Riekermolen windmill which is located along the river Amstel and is still in use (together with more modern pumps) to keep the Buitenveldert area dry. Several windmills have been closed down because surrounding development has blocked the wind to a point where they cannot adequately function.
Another fascination for visitors is the Amsterdam red-light district. We took a quick evening stroll through this medieval heart of downtown. These red light district women (and some men) give new meaning to the expression "window dressing" and "window shopping"! Amsterdam has long been known as an "open city" and these ladies of the night are registered, regulated and taxed.
Clogs are known as Klompen (wooden shoes) in the Netherlands. Traditional clogs were made out of willow or poplar wood. They are considered a form of national dress. We visited a local clog factory and watched a pair being made by a local craftsman. Today, Dutch clogs are available in many tourist shops. Wearing clogs is considered to be healthy for the feet. Clogs repel mud, water and snow exceptionally well.
Being partial to good cheese, a journey to where excellent Dutch cheese is made was a real treat. We visited a cheese-making farm and sampled several different tasty varieties of Gouda cheese. No book can teach this experience and our local delicatessen doesn't come close to matching the cheese! The same gentleman that makes the cheese makes the clogs.
Of course, the Netherlands is famous for flowers and runs one of the most renowned flower industries of the world. The flower market of Amsterdam plays a central role with its wide range of fresh and bright flowers.
The largest flower auction in the world is in the Netherlands.
Volendam is a fishing town with a picturesque main street. Small houses are sprinkled among bridges and channels. All the buildings in front of the sea have traditional facades. You can recognize the main colors of the village: black, white, red and dark green. When you walk down main street you see that many houses stand on piles. This is because of floods that used to come when the sea was still open. Volendam means a dam that has been filled.