Being Dutch born I have been asked what the difference between Holland and the Netherlands is. To be honest I did not know. After investigating I am told the following. The Netherlands consist of 12 provinces all together they are called the Netherlands. The 2 provinces called Noord and Zuid Holland together are called Holland. When you think The Netherlands you think of Cheese, Tulips and Windmills and this you find all around Holland. Holland is a flat country hence perfect for cycling and walking. Once the sun comes out the Dutch love to be outside on footpath dining/drinking areas, The Dutch beautiful beaches have hundreds of beach pavilions. Hundreds of lakes, canals small rivers, creeks are full of day trippers, boats and in winter when the weather turns cold enough, ice-skating enthusiasts can register for the elfstedentocht (eleven city tour) This route on natural ice takes you to eleven Friesian cities. If there is no ice, the cities are well worth a visit even when the weather is good. With so much water the Netherlands is always at risk of flooding. Measures to stop this are the Afsluitdijk and the Deltaworks both very much worthwhile visiting. Like every country The Netherlands have its own specific public holidays and traditions. Kings Day is a national Holiday celebrated in the streets with many music arts and markets. Not to mention party times in the many bars. Sinterklaas also known as Saint Nicholas, He can be recognized by his eye catching red cape and his long white beard. He arrives every year around mid-November on a steam boat full of presents together with his black helpers referred to as zwarte piet (Black Pedro) he is black is from the soot while he climbs up and down all the chimneys. Sinterklaas rides across rooftops on its white horse Americo kids place food for the horse in their shoes next to the chimney which black Pedro comes down in to pick this up and in return he places sweets for the kids. Great children’s time just a shame that the many foreigners now arriving in Holland now see this real Dutch tradition as racism? Having travelled around the world I have always respected all cultural and religious even if some where very odd for us? Why can’t those who decide to live in Holland can’t do the same? You may ask yourself the question if you do not like the culture, religion or celebrations why not move to a country where you do appreciate the religion, culture or national celebrations.

Between 2009 and 2016 Holland has become our stopover destination on a few occasions. Sometimes we had great weather, sometimes freezing weather and sometime terrible weather. Down-to-earth and tolerant The Dutch are known for being level-headed and down-to-earth. They frown upon boasting and bragging. “Act normally and you will be conspicuous enough” is an often-heard expression. The Dutch are also very direct. Some people find this tactless, but the Dutch consider it a sign of honesty and openness. The Dutch are also known as a tolerant people, particularly to those of different opinions and persuasions. They are used to discussing differences of opinion and admire those who stand up for themselves, their ideas and ideals. Freedom is a cherished virtue in the Netherlands.

During our stay besides meeting up with friends and family we also visited parts of this small country where we had never been too.

  1. the Afsluitdijk (English: Enclosure Dam), It is a major causeway in the Netherlands, constructed between 1927 and 1933 and running from Den Oever on Wieringen in North Holland province, to the village of Zurich in Friesland province, over a length of 32 km (20 miles) and a width of 90 m, at an initial height of 7.25 m Above sea-level It was part of the South Sea works and was built as a dam between the South Sea and the North Sea. It was built to protect the inland areas from flooding and for the land reclamation project in the former South Sea. In this area 400000 people now live on the bottom of the former South sea. There is an old saying in the Netherlands: “God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands.” And while this may sound arrogant, there is a great deal of truth to it. For centuries, the Dutch have been reclaiming land from the ocean — so much so, that the Netherlands of today was approximately 60% underwater a few hundred years ago. On top of the dike is a motorway connecting the two shores. The space that was meant to accommodate a railway was later used to double the motorway to four lanes. In true Dutch fashion, there is also a bicycle path connecting the two shores. Apart from strengthening the coasts, the Commission advised to shorten the coast by 700 kilometres. The idea was that the shorter the coast, the easier the defence. This has been used before in Dutch water engineering. A good example is the Afsluitdijk. In 1932, the South Sea was closed off by using the Afsluitdijk. Now the South Sea is named Ijsselmeer, taken from the North Sea. The Dutch coast-line was shortened by 360 kilometres and the chance of floods was far less. For the Dutch water engineers, the Delta plan was a huge job. No other nation in the world had ever closed off such a huge part of sea. Earlier experiences and techniques had not been sufficient for such a huge project. So, the different parts of the Delta Plan were taken step by step.  The engineers were faced with continuing difficulties
  2. The Zaanse Schans                                                                                                                      The Zaanse Schans a fully inhabited, open-air conservation area and museum located 9 miles north of Amsterdam. Original buildings vividly depict Dutch life in the 17th and 18th centuries. The authentic houses, the historic shipyard, the clog-making demonstrations and, above all, the windmills, attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. De Zaan region was probably the world’s first industrial site ever. Some 250 years ago, well over 800 windmills were cramped into this relatively small area. They performed a wide range of industrial duties. Of the five windmills, three are open to visitors. A boat tour on the river Zaan offers a particularly wonderful view of these mills. The area also features a wooden shoemaker, a pewter factory, bakery, cheese and dairy farm, and a century-old grocery store.
  3. DELTA WORKS The Dutch Province of Zeeland. Holland is quite small, the surface area is  41,528 square kilometres. The greatest distance from north to south is 300 kilometres, and from west to east 200 kilometres. Holland is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It has a population of sixteen and a half million and an average of 488 inhabitants per square kilometer. Zeeland is in the far south-west corner of Holland. There are no toll roads in Holland. However, before entering the tunnel at Terneuzen, you have to pay a small fee. Zeeland mostly lays below sea level. As soon as people inhabited the area the struggle against the water began. And the battle is like a red thread that runs through the history of Zeeland. Memories and indicators are to be found marking the floods of February 1953; the biggest natural disaster of the last century in the Netherlands and Western Europe. It was a long- lasting north-west storm that made the sea level rise 4 to 5 meters. In the middle of the night, whilst people were sleeping, the water flooded over the dikes and destroyed them. The disaster cost 1835 human lives but also 200.000 animals. Houses and buildings were damaged or destroyed. On many houses and public buildings there are markings to indicate the level of the sea on 1 Feb 1953. Many cemeteries hold the same markings to show how the battle against the water was lost. The disaster was burnt into the memories of all Dutch. Everybody agreed that such a disaster should not be allowed to occur ever again. A special Delta commission was set up that same year and they put into place a plan. This was to be known as the Delta Plan.    The Delta Commission advised to close all water arms in the Delta region and to bring all dikes and dunes up to the so-called Delta level. This meant 5 meters NAP at the Hoek van Holland. The chance of floods would then be 1 / 4000 per year for the Delta plan and 1 /10.000 per year in the North of the area north of Amsterdam. The Delta law, that came out of the plans of the commission was approved in 1958 and ratified by parliament. The Delta Plan would not only provide safety but also other advantages; a better water control, more land, less salting of the land, fresh water lakes for agriculture, new recreation areas and over the dams, better connections to the south-west of the Netherlands.

Roberts Marine Base in Doorn 1974-1977

The Netherlands is a multicultural society. This is primarily evident in the larger cities. You will find more than two hundred different nationalities in the city of Amsterdam alone. The largest minority groups in the Netherlands are Turkish, Surinamese, Moroccans and Antilleans from the Dutch Caribbean.

Worst thing about visiting Holland is the fact you have to say goodbye to family and friends and you never know if you will see them again. This day we had to say good bye to my mother and sister. We went for lunch and as a surprise we invited two of her old neighbours. They have lived next to each other for over 40 years. Mum was very surprised, and the afternoon was a success with lots of nostalgia. Saying goodbye is something we have become used to having lived in Australia for over 37 years. But it is never nice. But this time it was the last time I saw my mother alive as she passed away a few months later.

During the many visits I was reminded of some facts and figures about Holland. And being Dutch I am proud to share them with you.

  • highest point: 323m (Vaalserberg, Limburg) and is referred to as a ‘mountain’.
  • Holland is 6.7 metres below sea level at its lowest point.
  • One-quarter of Holland is below sealevel.
  • When you arrive at Schiphol Airport, you are four metres below sealevel.
  • Flevoland, the twelfth province, was reclaimed from the South Sea in 1986.
  • Holland has more than 4,400km of navigable rivers, canals and lakes.
  • The Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of three parts: the Netherlands itself in Western Europe, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba in the Caribbean.
  • Holland still has around a thousand old-fashioned working windmills.
  • Holland has more than 15,000km of cycle paths.
  • The Netherlands and Holland are the same place.
  • The Dutch are the tallest people in Europe.
  • Amsterdam is built entirely on piles.
  • Holland is the third biggest exporter of agricultural produce, trailing only the US and France, even though only 3% of the Dutch population works in the agriculture sector.
  • Every Dutch person has a bike and there are twice as many bikes as cars.
  • The Van Gogh collections in the Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum are the largest in the world.
  • Holland was one of the six founding members of the European Community.
  • Holland has the highest concentration of museums in the world, with 42 in Amsterdam alone.
  • Rotterdam is the second largest port in the world.
  • Amsterdam has 1,281 bridges.