David is set out to experience the delights of the Dutch countryside and won’t be happy until he has found cheese, clogs & famous canals!
The official name of this little country is the Netherlands, but the Dutch prefer to call their home Holland. Until the 19th century "the Netherlands" referred to Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.
It came into existence in 1579 and has had waves of invaders and a turbulent past.
Evidence of human habitation in the area goes back 250,000. The soft limestone provided shelter in scores of caves for cavemen and women. Hunebedden are enormous, long burial monuments, built from huge stones, and are found in Drenthe.
The Netherlands has water low-lands in its south, vast farmlands in the east, touristy towns to the north of Amsterdam, reclaimed land or polders in the centre and the pretty and remote Friesland and the Wadden Islands to the north.
Today Amsterdam is a blend of history and contemporary with a myriad of galleries and museums, canalside cafes, open-air cafes and buzzes 24 hours a day. It is often referred to as the Venice of the north both cities have had to struggle against water to survive, both had maritime trading empires and both have enviable reputations in the world of the arts.
Amsterdam, the capital city with a population of just 731,000, is a city of freedom, liberal drug laws and is the homosexual centre of Europe. It became one of Europe's most radical cities during the 1960s and 70s.
Ten minutes out of Amsterdam the mood swings to one of verdant tranquillity. Twenty-two kilometres north-east is Volendam, a former fishing port which has become the country's second-most popular tourist resort. Rows of traditional-looking wooden houses line the harbour. You can rent or buy traditional costumes and choose traditional blue and white Delft porcelain goods, clogs and dolls. It's almost a must that you try paling or smoked eel.
If you want to get away from the touristy side of Volendam, just a couple of blocks away is the real town. It has fisherman's houses and narrow canals and every Monday is washing day when the streets are strung with billowing laundry.
The lively little port of Hoorn was once capital of West Friesland and thanks to the Dutch East India Company was a mighty trading city. Its 17th century glory can still be felt around a marina full of old wooden fishing boats and barges.
Willem Schouten, who explored and named the tip of South America Cape Horn, and Abel Tasman, who put New Zealand and Tasmania on the map, were sons of Hoorn.
A statue of Jan Peterszoon Coen, founder of the Dutch East India Company, looks over Rode Steen (red stone), named for the blood which used to flow from the town gallows. Westfries Museum houses archaeological finds, plus weapons, maritime instruments, clocks and ornate furnishings. Its 17th to 19th century paintings are also impressive.
The beautiful little town of Alkmaar is special to the Dutch. In 1573 it repelled occupying Spanish troops by opening locks and flooded the area with sea water, forcing the invaders to retreat. That victory also won the town weighing rights which laid the foundation for its cheese market. While they still enact the cheese ceremony in colourful costume, accompanied by much hand-slapping, bargaining and cheese hoisting, most of that is really done in modern dairy combines. Tourists enjoy the traditional trading of the red rinded cheeses, and it makes for colourful holiday photographs.
Monnickendam's restored 17th century houses and fishing cottages are reminders of an important Zuiderzee fishing centre which ceased with the construction of the Afsluitdijk. This 32 kilometre, dead-straight dyke keeps the North Sea from flooding the country, and Monnickendam was sufficiently resourceful to reinvent itself as a watersports resort. A total of 24 percentof the country lies below sea level, and 2400km of dykes are needed to keep the sea out.
Of all the old Friesian ports, Harlingen is the only one which has kept its link to the sea. It is an important port and an attractive base for Terschelling and Vlieland ferries. The lighthouse is the heart of Harlingen and has been refurbished to become a much sought-after accommodation for two. Built of stone and steel in 1921 its three rooms are on different levels and as the surrounding areas are so flat, you can see long distances.
The Netherlands does offer lots of clogs and windmills, dykes and canals, bicycles, fields of tulips, barrows of cheeses, green fields of grazing cattle, rare paintings and plenty of things worthy of photographing.