Welcome to Holland, the Netherlands
Welcome to the Netherlands – which is quite often called Holland by locals and tourists alike. The Netherlands is part of the European Union and our currency is the Euro. The country’s time-zone is GMT +1 and the rather guttural language around you that sounds like double Dutch – is actually Dutch. The Netherlands has a temperate climate with mild-ish winters, cool summers and rain and wind pretty much throughout the year. This makes it ideal weather for producing – and sampling – quintessential Dutch products like tulips, cheese and very fine beer.
Holland or the Netherlands
While at large sporting events, you’ll often hear the Dutch shouting “Hup Holland Hup”, the country really is known as the Netherlands officially. There are however two Holland provinces – North Holland and South Holland, so if you are visiting one of these you can officially say you’re going to Holland. Just make things really confusing, the capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam, which is in North Holland in the Netherlands. A bit like New York City is in New York State in The United States of America. But Amsterdam is not the capital of North Holland – this honour goes to Haarlem – whereas the capital of South Holland is The Hague.
Amsterdam- city of contrasts
Situated at Latitude 52º and 22 N and Longitude 4º and 53 E, vibrant Amsterdam is just as famous for its beautiful canals, open-minded attitude and thriving commercial scene as it is for being a hedonistic pleasure zone. Amsterdam is a city of exciting contrasts. One moment you could be looking at a world-famous Old Master in a renowned museum or gallery, and the next you could be sauntering through the red-light district. Although you might notice that the red-light district is also beginning to recede, thanks to the city’s efforts to fight crime and exploitation. This makes room for even more creative venues and cutting edge entrepreneurs.
Amsterdam’s extremes mean it’s a city where you can’t smoke tobacco in the same locale as you can smoke a joint. And you might like to note that in the Netherlands joints are smoked in a coffee-shop while coffee is drunk in a café. Smoking is pretty much banned in all public places to protect the staff, so cigarettes are usually smoked outside. Amsterdam is still a city of compromise and tolerance – as it has been for centuries.
Cycling Country – the Netherlands
There are almost as many bikes as residents in Amsterdam and cycling is a fun, efficient and easy way of getting around the city. In fact, the compact centers of most Dutch cities makes them a great place to explore on foot. Driving is usually not very convenient as the roads are narrow and congested and parking is expensive and difficult to find. If you want wheels, hire a bicycle!
Cycling in the Netherlands (even in Amsterdam) is perfectly safe if you follow a few simple rules. For the best results, use the bicycle lane on the right-hand side of the road. Stay alert and watch out for other traffic at all times! And always give right of way to taxis, trams and buses. Remember, if it gets a busy, it’s sometimes best to just hop off at the curb and walk until things are a bit more manageable.
Lock up and go
If you’d like to see your bike again, don’t ever leave it unsecured – no matter how short a time you are going to leave it. Always lock your bicycle to something unmovable, preferably a bike rack using two locks: one through the back wheel and one around the frame through the front wheel. If possible, park your bike in one of the guarded bike-parks, like those around most major train stations. Otherwise, leave it in a busy, public place where there is less opportunity for a thief to work unnoticed. And if there are other bikes around, try park yours to the most unsecured looking one in the hope a would-be thief targets that one instead.
Whatever mode of transport you choose, the Netherlands is a country that is constantly on the move and innovation thrives here. This means you can discover something new every time you visit. The hardest decision of your stay in the Netherlands will be deciding what to do first!