The Netherlands: Beyond Amsterdam

The Netherlands: Beyond Amsterdam


Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with more of
the best of Europe. The people here claim if you stand on a chair you can see
all across their country. This is the Best of
the Netherlands. Thanks for joining us. Traveling here,
it’s easy to see how the Netherlands is a lot
like its people — efficient, a good balance
of old and new, hard work and fun,
innovation and tradition. Even with a dense population and an ongoing battle
with the sea, the Dutch are warm
and even-keeled. We’ll cruise through
a mighty port, go for an old-fashioned sail, and visit the ultimate
flower market. We’ll marvel at Dutch masters, smoke some eels, pull out all the stops on
an unforgettable organ, and start up
a classic windmill. In the west of Europe
is the Netherlands, with 12 provinces including
North and South Holland. Everything we’ll see is within
an hour of Amsterdam. We’ll sail what was
the Zuiderzee, blocked off by long dams, explore characteristic towns
from Delft to Rotterdam and Haarlem to Marken,
with lots in between. Most Dutch travel dreams are set
in the area called Holland, and that’s where we’ll
be spending most of our time. Like many fortified old cities, Delft, welcomes you with the
twin towers of its city gate, graced by an old drawbridge
and a canal moat. It’s delightful architecture
recalls the Golden Age — the 17th century pinnacle
of Dutch trade and sea power. Quaint scenes line
intimate canals. It’s Thursday, and that means
market day in Delft. In towns all over
the Netherlands, main squares become thriving
markets one day a week. It’s late June, and the Herring
are in season. And every market
comes with a cheesemonger, almost evangelical about
the tastiness of Dutch cheese. Ask a question and you’re in for
an education complete with samples. This is young —
how young is this? Um, about four to six weeks. So, tell me about this one. Four and a half years old,
hand-made and quite strong. We have — sometimes is, we have
them even older. I like that — give me a glass
of port and this is my dessert. Towering over the square
is the church, with its brick steeple
rocketing skyward. And facing that, overseeing
the town’s commerce as it has for nearly
a thousand years, is the City Hall. Much of the Netherlands
is built on soggy land. The City Hall,
with its heavy stone jail, was built on the most solid
land in town. The leaning church,
just down the canal, not so much. The town’s historic canals
both drained the land and provided a transportation
network for barges. Today, the old barges
are retired — many are permanently moored in front of cafes
and restaurants for outdoor dining. Over the centuries,
these little canals shipped out countless
barge loads of the town’s famed
earthenware. Delftware is famous
all around the world. Royal Delft, the oldest
surviving workshop, established back in
the 1600s, welcomes visitors to drop in
and see how it’s made. Visitors to the factory
follow the process. First, the liquid clay is poured
into plaster molds. When dry, it’s removed and the seams are
smoothed off. Then it’s baked. And then,
lovingly painted by hand. A mesmerizing scene
unchanged for centuries. After being glazed
to fix the paint, it’s baked a second time during which
the paint turns blue. That’s the secret of
Royal Delft Blue since 1653. The finished product —
this highly valued earthenware. Rooms of historic Delftware
show off this art. This table setting is laid out as if it was the home of
a wealthy person here in Delft. The Netherlands is small —
smaller than West Virginia — and the most densely populated
country in Europe. Most of the country
is below sea level, reclaimed with great effort over
many generations from the sea. That’s why they like to say, “God made the world,
but the Dutch, we made Holland.” This is polder land. Much of it once covered
by the sea, it was encircled by dikes
and dams and then drained. To pump out all that water, the Dutch used one of their
leading natural resources — the wind. For centuries,
the Dutch built windmills. Over a thousand survive,
and many still work. Some welcome visitors
interested in a peek at the clever engine that powered the creation
of this land. I’m standing on reclaimed land,
12 feet below sea level. The challenge for the Dutch — to keep this land dry
by pumping water uphill. Many windmills
used their wind power to turn an Archimedes’ screw,
like this, which, by rotating in a tube, lifted water up
and over the dike. To catch the desired
amount of wind, millers, like expert sailors, know just how much to unfurl
the sails — or furl them back,
as necessary. Mills are built with sturdy
oak timber frames to withstand
the constant tension. These timbers have stood strong
since the 1600s. When the direction of
the wind shifts, the miller turns the cap
of the building — which weighs many tons —
to face the breeze. As he spins the winch, it all slides on these
wooden roller bearings. Then, with a hefty chain, he anchors it
in the correct spot. As the wooden cogs connect, wind becomes
clean power, Archimedes’ screw rotates,
and the water spirals up. The Dutch had long eyed what was
the vast inland Zuiderzee as a source of new land. This 18-mile-long dam was built
as one of many steps in turning that sea
into farmland. The master plan — cordon off sections of
the shallow sea with hundreds of miles of
dams and dikes like this. Then, by draining
each section dry, piece by piece,
build a bigger country. These fields were once the bottom of that
wide-open sea. Gradually,
land was reclaimed, and today the Netherlands is twice the size
it was 400 years ago. Because of this reclamation, what had been fishing villages
on little islands — like Schokland —
are now high and dry mounds rising above fertile farmland. Behind this sturdy
stone-and-wood seawall, this tiny community
once harvested the sea. In its day, this cannon warned
visitors of a high tide. I’m standing below sea level. I know that because I picked up
a handful of dirt and it came with some shells — and this marks sea level according to the official
Amsterdam measure, zero. Imagine, a couple
generations ago, this buoy bobbed in the harbor. What was the bottom of the sea
is now productive farmland. The salty seabed soil, with a mix of rain, sunshine,
and clever crop rotation, eventually becomes
extremely fertile. One thing the polder soil grows
particularly well is flowers. And here at the Aalsmeer
flower auction, it’s clear — flowers are big business
in Holland. Visitors are welcome in this, one of the world’s largest
commercial buildings. They witness millions of dollars
in the trafficking of flowers. In its auction halls, hundreds of wholesalers
bid on trainloads of flowers as they roll by. To get the flowers out
as fresh as possible, everything happens fast, including the bidding. A “Dutch auction” is speedy because the prices go
from high to low. Batches of flowers
are sold to the first buyer to press the button. Buyers must be
lightning-quick — it’s the only way to sell
so many flowers in one morning. Strolling the fragrant catwalk, it’s fun to peer down
on the action. They boast that fresh flowers go
from cutting in the fields to flower shops anywhere
in Europe within 24 hours. Workers scramble to get each
buyer’s purchase assembled on a train
and shipped out. The Dutch are the world’s
leading flower exporters — 80% of these flowers
are going abroad. Every day from this building,
20 million flowers are shipped, destined to make someone’s day. The industrious heritage
of the Dutch people is evident in its many
historic cities. Haarlem is a “Dutch masters”
kind of town with plenty of
17th-century architecture. The town gate, no longer needed as part of
its fortification, welcomes all into
a delightful Old Town. Haarlem’s market square —
traffic-free since the 1960s — has been the town’s focal point
for centuries. The herring stand
is a standard feature of small town squares
throughout Holland. Hello, is it herring time now?
Are these fresh? That’s fresh,
it’s now herring season. -RICK: In the summertime?
-Yeah, summertime. RICK: So, what are my options? The options —
outside of Amsterdam, they grab it from the tail and just slide it inside
and they bite it. -And in Amsterdam?
-In Amsterdam we cut it
in pieces. Let’s have it Amsterdam style. Yeah. Do you want onions
and pickles with it? -RICK: What is the normal way?
-With everything. -I’ll have everything.
-The whole package? RICK: The whole package.
Beautiful. And this is actually raw? This is raw,
it’s marinated with salt. And then we eat it with
the Dutch flag. RICK: So, this is a patriotic
duty in the Netherlands. Is this — people say this is
a healthy thing to eat. It is. RICK: So, how do you say
“delicious and healthy”? -Lekker en gezond.
-Lekker en gezond. Yeah. -Raw fish.
-Raw fish. Mmm, why not? This will make me
a good man? You already are, but now you’re better. [Laughs]
Mmm! Lekker en gezond! To uncover some of
Haarlem’s sites, dodge bikes down narrow,
characteristic lanes. Just down the street, Haarlem’s top museum features
the work of its most famous son, the great portrait artist
Frans Hals. Here, in a room full of
his masterpieces, we get a good taste of
Protestant Dutch art. When the Dutch
broke away from Spain and the Catholic Church
in the 1600s, they established an independent
Protestant republic. While this was great
for freedom, it was a crisis for painters — no more wealthy bishops
and art-loving kings to commission grand
works of art. Dutch society
was a merchant society, and now artists worked for
a new kind of customer — Merchants. These are ego-boosting portraits
of city big shots. They epitomize the independent
and upwardly mobile Dutch of the 17th century — the men who made
the Golden Age golden. These Dutchmen worked hard
and were proud of it. Here, some business leaders
close a deal. They enjoyed displaying
the fruits of their labor, like this —
an exquisitely detailed still life
of good food. No preachy Madonnas or saints, but a canvas reminder that this
household ate very well. And this family
had some fine pewter ware. In this woman’s portrait, her elegant dress and jewelry are painted with as much care
as her face. Painters showed
city pride as well. A centerpiece of most Dutch
cities is the church. You see it in 300-year-old
paintings… And you see it today
as you explore. Haarlem’s Grote Kerk,
or great church, towers over the market square as if to bless all the business
that takes place below. Inside, you find a towering
Gothic nave, which was whitewashed and purged
of its Catholic ornamentation when the Reformation
arrived in 1566. Small frescoed sections, revealed when the whitewash
was cleaned off, show how the entire church
was originally decorated. As was the case in many
Protestant countries, rather than huge, preachy works
of visual art, like frescos and statues promoting the message
of the Church, the artistic emphasis
was put on music. [Organist playing] Protestant churches invested in
mighty pipe organs. Haarlem’s towering organ
has been giving worship here an inspirational soundtrack
since 1738. And visitors enjoy
free concerts weekly. With Europe’s
densest population, the Netherlands has invested in
an impressive public transportation
infrastructure. Buses and trains seem to go
everywhere all the time. After leaving Haarlem,
in a few minutes we’re in Rotterdam, with its
striking new train station. Rotterdam has a gleaming skyline
and Europe’s largest port. It’s a reminder of the Dutch
knack for international trade. Locals say that while the money
is spent in Amsterdam, it’s made here in Rotterdam. They boast that
shirts in Rotterdam are sold with the sleeves
already rolled up. A walk through this
thriving pedestrian zone complements our quaint
old world sightseeing with a dose of
today’s reality. Rotterdam’s harbor is the third
largest in the world. With a harbor tour,
you can appreciate its immensity. The port handles 35,000
ocean-going vessels each year. That’s almost
100 ships a day. While most of these ships
sail the open seas, this is where the Rhine River
meets the ocean. And from here, river boats, filled with either
tourists or cargo, can go all the way through
Europe to the Black Sea. Back in the 17th century,
The Dutch East India Company, which did business in ports
all around the world, was, in a way, the first great
multi-national corporation. Today, the Dutch with little in
the way of natural resources, still make their serious money
in trade. They remain among the world’s
great shippers. After mighty Rotterdam, the tiny but historic
port of Hoorn, a couple of hours to the north,
seems quaint. But in its day,
it was one of six trading cities that joined forces to create
the Dutch East India Company. It evokes a rich history,
from its once formidable harbor to its main square. Overlooking the square is
the Westfries Museum, which takes you vividly back to
Holland’s Golden Age. Stepping into
the venerable building, which dates from the 1600s,
the floor creaks. Its planks were salvaged from
centuries-old trading ships, which likely sailed all the way
to the Spice Islands on the far side of the world. Here, you feel the pride
and power of the Dutch — when they dominated world trade and brutally capitalized on
their far-flung colonial empire. Pondering group portraits
above the mantle, you can imagine the influence
and the wealth of these tycoons. Here, they’re portrayed as if
they control the globe. In a way, they did — and much of that was
because of the value of the spices
they imported. With the bland cuisine
of Europe back then, you can imagine the demand for
these new, exotic spices. You could spice up both
your food and your life with peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon. And nutmeg was so valuable
it was said a bag of these could buy a house
in 17th-century Holland. Exploring Holland,
we’re struck by the big skies, fertile fields,
and flat land. The country is bounded by
the North Sea — where there are no natural dunes
to keep the sea out, the Dutch have had to build
mighty walls or “dikes” to protect their farms
and communities. Roughly half the people
and half the land here in the Netherlands
are below sea level. And for 700 years,
the Dutch have developed their expertise at keeping
this country dry. It’s a constant battle. And now with climate change
and rising sea levels a reality, the work is that much harder
and more expensive. Even with impressive dikes
already in place, the Dutch are moving mountains
of sand and mud to fortify their dikes and protect
their next generation. Famous for both their frugality
and their foresight, the Dutch are investing
billions of Euros as climate change makes its
costly impact felt on sea level communities here and around the globe. And flood protection requires
more than massive dikes. Built where the big river
meets the sea, the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier is an amazing
engineering project. When necessary,
its two arms, each as long as
the Eiffel Tower is high, are swung together
to create a barrier. This stops a storm surge from
flooding the Rotterdam delta where a million people live. Low-lying American cities
are importing Dutch expertise as they, too, face the reality
of the future. Along with their role as
protectors of the Netherlands, some of the dikes and sand dunes
that make the North Sea coast are playgrounds as well. And ever since
the Industrial Age kicked into gear, local workers have come here
for their R&R. At the sea-side resort
of Scheveningen, that Dutch love of life
is cranked way up. Rather than
fight the sea, here people play in it. And for over a century, Dutch holiday goers
have enjoyed this promenade. With the comfort of knowing Dutch engineers are keeping
the sea at bay, my favorite days in Holland
are spent below sea level, in its quaint
and picturesque corners. Here you can experience the landscape of Holland
as it was back in the 17th century. Exploring villages that seem to be built on both
land and water, you get a sense for what life
must have been like for the Dutch centuries ago. In the town of Enkhuizen
is the Zuiderzee Museum. While the modern world threatens
traditional ways of Dutch life, this creative museum
strives to keep them alive for future generations
to appreciate. Its sprawling layout allows
visitors to travel through both time and culture. In one corner,
people are living as if still in a remote fishing village
back in 1905. Exploring the park, you enjoy
intimate slices of life from old Holland. The coopers artfully make
their barrels watertight. The coal furnace is stoked to run the belt-driven
laundromat — sudsing, agitating, and wringing. The sail maker
stitches a sail. The blacksmith
pounds his iron… in his wooden clogs. Fishermen are smoking
their eels. And visitors devour
the entire experience. And here in the Netherlands,
if you know where to look, you can also enjoy traditional
experiences outside the museums. We’re sailing to the fishing
village of Marken in a traditional
fishing boat. A few of these
venerable boats survive. This one earns its keep by hiring out to visitors… and, in the case of this
motley crew, putting them to work. How are we doing, Captain? Almost!
One more pull. Okay. RICK: How old is this boat? It’s from 1904, yeah,
is 110 years old, this boat. RICK: What was the purpose?
What was the work it did? CAPTAIN: The purpose is fishing
boat, it’s a working boat. They just did fishing with it,
nothing else. Now, back then,
this was salt water, right? It was salt water, because there
was no dike in the north, so it was salt water. So, they fished on herring,
anchovies. How many people would work on
the boat when it went out? Well, they were with one skipper
and one mate, so they actually did it
with two people. RICK: Just two?
Only two? They sailed and worked the ship, even did fishing with it,
with two people. RICK: So, they would go fishing
for how many days? CAPTAIN: At Sunday they went to
church, of course, and they started on
Monday morning, and they came back at
Friday evening. Five days out,
two men in this ship? Yeah, they were —
this was the time of wooden ships
and iron man. Wooden ships and iron men —
those were the days! Marken welcomes visitors
with its charming harbor. It’s a favorite with
vacationing yachters who enjoy late sunsets
with convivial happy hours. The oldest homes
in the village were built on
the highest ground. They huddle together, as if finding strength
in numbers in the face of
the next flood. In the 19th century, this harbor
was the thriving home to over a hundred
fishing boats. But, along with fishing,
devastating floods were a way of life
here in Marken. When they walled off the sea with a massive dike
fifty miles north of here, the salt water turned to
fresh water and the sea was controlled. It was tough on
the fishing industry, but, overall,
good for the people. No more floods. While Marken remains both traditional and idyllic
to this day, like much of the Netherlands, it’s a place where the past
and the present mingle comfortably. The Netherlands offers travelers a rich variety of
sights and experiences. And traveling here,
sooner or later, you’ll find yourself exclaiming, “everything’s just so…
Dutch!” I’m Rick Steves. Until next time,
keep on travelin’. “Tot ziens!” The Netherlands is
a lot like its people — warm, even-keeled,
good on bikes. Many windmills used
their wind power to power — to turn
an Archimedes’ screw like this. Sooner or later you find
yourself excra– exclaiming — exclaiming, exclaiming! Ooh-hoo-hoo!

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