Holland. Synonymous with wind mills, greenery, wooden shoes, cheese and tulips. One country I always wanted to see. As I set foot on Amsterdam, Holland's capital, I was enthralled by its captivating beauty. Well connected by air (it's the headquarters of KLM) and train. The TGV (the 5 country fast train network) connects Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Koln. Or take those luxury buses. From England or Paris from where it's just a 6-hour drive.
Amsterdam is full of canals weaving their way through the entire city. A boat ride on the river Amstel is just the thing to do at the right time of the year, that's between March and October. Because in winter, the entire river freezes and its ice-skating time! We took the boat ride on a bright and sunny day and it was simply fascinating. Amsterdam-by-night on these boats can be equally fascinating and with some houseboats offering candlelight dinner on board, with wine and cheese, the evening could well turn out to be a romantic one.
For those who like indulging in history, there are many museums in Amsterdam. The famous ones are the 'Vincent Van Gogh Museum' and the 'Stedelijk Museum' for modern art. There is also a Madame Tussad's Museum. After a reasonably sumptuous meal at Pizza Hut, we walked along the roads of Amsterdam until we reached the heart of Holland called the 'DAM'. This is where the Dutch celebrate their Remembrance Day each year on the 4th of May and on that day the place if fully packed. The Royal Palace in the DAM square is a breath-taking 17th century monument. Behind is the main post office, an equally astonishing piece of architecture.
Just 10 kms from Amsterdam is a place called "Zaans Schans". In earlier times, there were many windmills in the Zaan area and these windmills are used for industrial purposes. Many of them, still in working condition working. It still amazes me as to how people in those days could think of trapping wind power? The Zaan area is actually an open-air museum. A unique feature of this museum is that many cottages surround these windmills and all these cottages are occupied! We drove around the countryside and witnessed some splendid sights. With the onset of spring, the ground is like one massive, lush green carpet with stretches of beautifully coloured flowers spread all across.
All over Holland, you will find wooden shoes that are elegantly carved in various colours. These shoes are the symbol of this beautiful country. Dutch work in the fields where the land is quite marshy. Hence, farmers wear these wooden shoes - even to this day - which enabled them to get a firm grip in the ground and also from preventing their feet from getting wet. For tourists, these wooden shoes are a must for their souvenir collection.
The next morning, map in hand, off we went to Keukenhoff, which means kitchen garden. In earlier times, the Duchess had a small garden here, where vegetables were grow exclusively for her, but later, they converted this into a garden exclusively to grow bulbs. Bulbs are a particular variety of plants having roots shaped like bulbs and they grow only once a year. I actually wanted to buy some and bring them to India so that we could grow tulips, daffodils at home. But then, I was told that the temperatures in India might not suit the purpose. Regrettably, I had to abandon the idea. Our drive to Keukenhoff was simply beautiful and I am at a loss of words to describe this wonderful feast of colour before my eyes. Sprawling fields filled with tulips in rich colour of red, white, yellow and daffodils spread all around. I was awe-struck. It could not be real, I thought. If this extravaganza did not make one feel romantic, I wonder what will. Even the cars on the road ahead stopped to feast their eyes with this display of Mother Nature's creation.
We then went to the actual garden. But surprisingly enough, as I look back I seem to enjoy the beauty of those unkempt fields better than the well-maintained gardens. There is always beauty in wilderness I guess. The garden is well maintained and there are mind boggling variety of tulips, amaryllis and daffodils. Here again, was another windmill and one man actually explained to us how it functions. From the windmill we could get a view of the never-ending lanes of flowers.
The Dutch are a friendly lot and most of them speak English. Hence, communication is not a problem. Most people here ride bicycles the favoutite mode of transportation in Holland. That doesn't in any way mean the roads are not crowded. Cyclists have separate lanes on the roads so they can cycle freely. They also have separate traffic signals as also, separate parking space with a sort of structure on which the bicycles can be mounted. Over all, the traffic is pretty disciplined.