Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Netherlands

 To see my photos:

I spent 3 great days in Holland.  Here are my impressions:

& At first view, the old city of Amsterdam is charming and beautiful.  The canal system is extensive and creates the need for over 1000 bridges.  The old buildings lining the canals, with a combination of original homes and warehouse that have been converted to homes, are pretty. On a short cruise at night on the canals gave me the opportunity to peer into the houses.  The chandeliers are large, but the inhabitants tend to like contemporary styles.  Suits me fine.

A  Amsterdam has restricted automobile traffic in its historic city.  Bicycle traffic is everywhere.  The bicyclists are prone to ride fast with little regard to pedestrians.  It is important to be alert everywhere about crossing a street.  I liked the idea of using human-power for transportation, but over my brief visit I began to appreciate that I saw very few elderly and other persons with mobility impairments.  Maybe Amsterdam has created a city that is even more youth-oriented that what we have in the US.  However, the city would be at a standstill if autos were allowed everywhere.  Everything is a trade of

A  Amsterdam has so many cultural activities that it rivals cities much larger.  Its 800,000 population is treated to music by the great orchestra in the world, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and a myriad of other performing artists from the full range of musical styles.  I would love to have access to all that they have in such a small city. 

& At first I was really impressed with the old city- the beautiful walkways, canals, and shops.  By the third day I was aware that I had not really focused on the kind of shops that are available.  Many (too many for my taste) are sex- or marijuana-oriented.  In fact, I thought a lot of the city was given over to sleaze.  But, others may find it the right mix.

&The infamous red-light district, while built along a charming canal, is certainly not classy.  While interesting from a tourist point-of-view, it was off-putting to me.  The vacant stare of the women in the windows, who look at you but without focusing on you, is a symbol for the sex they provide.  It may be with you, but my guess, their heads are somewhere else.  People justify the legalized prostitution as taking the profession out of the hands of pimps and putting it directly in the woman’s hand.  It is said that this results in less victimization.  This may be true, but it doesn’t address the psychological impact of selling sex for money.  Again, trade-offs.

T The canals are full of detritus, which really impacts their beauty- and not in a good way.
& We ask of a bar server if the citizens were allowed to own guns.  She said “no” and then said, “What would we do with them?”  Holland rates 52 in murder rates, while the US ranks 24 (see out of 62 nations.  Of course, such data may be tenuous, but I am not surprised that they have far fewer killings. 

& The marijuana-coffee houses are filled with what look to me like throw-backs to the 1960’s.  The smell of weed hangs heavy in many neighborhoods.  With drugs comes sex.  Where there are many coffee houses, there are many sex shops.  Holland also is a large center for drug importation and associated crimes.  I am not surprised.

&We asked the  bar server how her health care was provided.  She said she is required to purchase health insurance at the rate of about $130 per month.   Seems like a lot to me.  Holland’s system of required private system and government supports are not unlike that to take effect in the US, except they may have better cost-control mechanisms. 

 AAll of the railway stations in Holland are being rebuilt to accommodate the nation’s new high-speed rail system (  And here we sit in our automobiles with neighborhood-destroying roads and highways everywhere.  If the present administration and congress had any guts, we would have used the stimulus money to build such a system, but we only are providing planning grants to states, some of whom are returning the money to the federal government.  Also, somehow we think that giving grants to Universities will stimulate employment.  It only stimulates for the life of the grant, but a high speed rail system would provide continuing employment for years to come, unless unions push the price of operating the system to unsustainable heights.

     Rotterdam ( was nearly totally destroyed with Hitler’s invasion.  In its place has grown a modern city that, at some points, is daring and challenging, but at others is a dreadful amalgam of endless rows of apartments in nondescript buildings that must be soul-draining to its inhabitants.  At many places, Rotterdam is stunning, but in others it is modernism gone terribly wrong.  Where it is daring it is wonderful, but where it is high density, it is really ugly. 

& The Hague, the de facto capital of Holland is a stunning city (  It has preserved the past, and impressively built to address the future.  The Queen’s palace is located in The Hague.  It is not as ostentatious as that of the English royalty.  The Hague has the second highest concentration of United Nations-buildings in the world, after New York.  I would have liked to have spent more time in The Hague. 

    Delft ( ) is a small town best known for the hand-painted china that bears its name.  That business has come on hard times and it located in small building, where the china is fired and decorated.  When I was there only tow artisans were at work painting the porcelain. 

    The Aalsmeer flower auction ( is held in one of the largest buildings in the world.  It is an impressive sight to see cart on top of cart filled with flowers and leaves from all over the world being prepared for distribution.  As they say, Aalsmeer in the morning, New York in the afternoon. 

    Meduradam ( is an interesting park outside of Amsterdam.  It features miniature versions of key attractions in Holland.  While very well done, it struck me as a bit odd.  It’s like the California Dreaming section of Disneyland in California.  Why look at copies when you can see the real thing?

    Holland does not have grand gothic cathedrals made of limestone and marble.  They are red-brick affairs that have been around long enough to collect a lot of grime.  In fact, some have been closed in Amsterdam and have become galleries and museums.  In Delft, the old church charged three Euros admission.  I didn’t go since I think god should be free. 

    The weather is depressing, much like in Ireland.  It is often overcast, rainy and foggy.  I supposed to get used to it. 

    Schipol Airport is a study in efficiency.  It is about 4 meters below sea level, making it the lowest airport in the world.  It is built on a reclaimed lake.  The Amsterdam central station is built on a man-made island.  The Dutch did before the people of Dubai.  Who knew?

I t   I think I could live in Holland, but there are things I sure don’t like.  The oppressiveness of the suburban apartments and the weather would be hard to take.  The misfires of modern architecture would also be a drawback.  I did not like the sex and drug oriented culture, but the main stream cultural activities are sure appealing.  If I could live in the central part of Amsterdam adjacent to canal, it would be very appealing.  My hunt for the ideal place to live is still underway!

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