We're back from a fabulous time in The Netherlands and Belgium. And for those of you who are still confused about Holland and the Netherlands, Holland is the most populated region in the west of The Netherlands which includes Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. The Dutch prefer if you do not refer to the country as Holland which is akin to calling Australia "Queensland".
Several things struck me when we arrived in Amsterdam 6am that first day: (1) the Dutch are incredibly tall thanks to genetics and a high-protein diet when young, (2) they're very friendly in the same chatty way Australians are (3) they party hard!
The day before our arrival was Queen's Day (Koninginnedag) which is Queen Beatrix's official birthday. Her actual birthday is on 31 January however the weather at that time is not conducive to the kind of celebration the Dutch have in mind and we saw the aftermath—Amsterdam was a rubbish tip with ankle-deep garbage covering every street, and the canals, and the infamous public urinals gave rise to an unbearable stench. For two kids from the cleanest city in the world, it was a little confronting, but by the next day, we had a chance to see the real Amsterdam.
A highlight, one of many, was visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam—family and friends will no doubt recall my decade-long obsession with Vincent. Other highlights were the historic town of Brugges, eating Belgium waffles for breakfast, Belgian chocolate, and generally, the beautiful countryside as we cruised the rivers of Belgium and The Netherlands. I love greenery and I love water, and the two merged everywhere on our path.
Unfortunately the tulips bloomed early this year due to an un-seasonally warm spring, but we still had a chance to see plenty at the incredible FloraHolland Aalsmeer flower auction where 20 million flowers are auctioned every day. This was another highlight of our trip. It was so alive with activity and of course masses of beautiful flowers of every kind, and you can no doubt imagine what a massive warehouse filled with 20 million flowers might smell like. You might be familiar with the term "Dutch auction" which has negative connotations in the business world, but this is how the flower auction is conducted, with prices starting high then moving lower. You bid (press a buzzer) when the price is at your level if you're not too late. If I lived in Aalsmeer and was retired, I would spend my mornings at the flower auction.
We were blessed with perfect weather on our holiday until the final two days when the real Amsterdam summer revealed itself, and it is colder and wetter than any Melbourne winter. At least we experienced the truth before we espoused the brilliance of a Dutch summer. According to our tour guide, the two weeks of perfect weather we enjoyed (and preceeding six weeks) might well be the only warm, sunny two weeks for the entire summer.
We thoroughly recommend The Netherlands and Belgium, and river cruising is the best way to do … it if your waistline can survive four-course meals three times a day.