Much of this coun­try might be be­low sea level, but when it comes to in­ter­est­ing cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, unique tourist at­trac­tions and cre­ative cui­sine, Hol­land cer­tainly punches above its weight


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - SU­SANNE VERDONK

OF­FI­CIALLY, Hol­land is not the same as the Nether­lands. His­tor­i­cally, wealthy counts ruled the two western prov­inces, North Hol­land and South Hol­land (as they ex­ist to­day), and to­gether they formed Hol­land.

As it was pres­ti­gious to be from that re­gion, peo­ple from the rest of the Nether­lands started call­ing them­selves “Hol­lan­ders”, and so grad­u­ally ev­ery­one came from “Hol­land”. Nowa­days, both terms are used to de­note the same coun­try, though many Dutch cringe at the sound of “Hol­land”, as they be­lieve it to sound boor­ish.

For the sake of de­scrip­tive ease, “Hol­land” here means the same as “the Nether­lands”.

In Hol­land, peo­ple speak Dutch, which peo­ple from South Africa will un­der­stand be­cause of the his­tor­i­cal link be­tween the coun­tries.

To some, how­ever, it will sound as if the Dutch are suf­fer­ing from a slight speech im­ped­i­ment. Not to worry; some Dutch feel ex­actly the same way about Afrikaans.

Most peo­ple in Hol­land, how­ever, will speak a fair amount of English, which makes trav­el­ling around the coun­try a piece of cake.

Hol­land is so much more than wind­mills, tulips, cheese and cow­filled fields that are “zo plat als een dubbeltje” (as flat as the orig­i­nal coin, now worth 5 eu­ro­cents). In fact, it is amaz­ing how such a small coun­try has so many great places to dis­cover and en­joy.

One of Hol­land’s top sights is, of course, Am­s­ter­dam – a com­pact, canal-filled city with a snug at­mos­phere. Lit­tered with leafy trees and stray bikes, Am­s­ter­dam is a fan­tas­tic city to ex­plore by canal boat, bike, or on foot.

From Cen­tral Sta­tion, me­an­der along the restau­rant- and store-lined Dam­rak to the Dam (Dam Square) to ad­mire the World War ll mon­u­ment: the palace ( where King WillemAlexan­der kissed his Ar­gen­tinian bride on the bal­cony not long ago); the Bi­jenkorf (fa­mous depart­ment store), and buskers and pi­geons.

Dip into the Kalver­straat (the most ex­pen­sive shop­ping street on the Dutch mo­nop­oly board) and grad­u­ally make your way to other top- notch sights such as the Ri­jksmu­seum, the Anne Frank Mu­seum and the Lei­d­se­plein.

Have a re­lax­ing pot of tea at Het Blauwe Thee­huis (The Blue Tea House) in the mid­dle of Het Von­del­park; the home of green pic­nic fields, a foun­tain, an open- air the­atre and rollerblad­ing fa­nat­ics.

At night, one could al­ways take a quick look around the no­to­ri­ous Red Light Dis­trict, where women are il­lu­mi­nated in the win­dows of half-hid­den gen­tle­men’s clubs and se­cret cor­ri­dors.

Wade through wafts of mar­i­juana es­cap­ing from the count­less shops that don’t sell just cof­fee, and past those with end­less sup­plies of in­trigu­ing adult toys.

Am­s­ter­dam, though, is only one of the many places to visit and soak up some Dutch cul­ture. For about R500, you can hop on a bus and drive through the coun­try­side to see Volen­dam and Marken, two tradi-

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