Monday, May 28, 2012

Dutch icons: Travel by tourist cliches, or is it real?

The Netherlands is a funny place. I mean that in the nicest possible way, but it's pretty unique for a reasonably small country that it has so many famous icons that people across the world would instantly identify as being from there: windmills, tulips, clogs and several kinds of cheeses, just to name a few. A great post on EuroTravelogue last week about the windmills at Kinderdijk in the Netherlands reminded me of this and I dug through some of my old photos and diaries to remind myself of all of the Dutch icons I've seen so far. I have to say that even though all of these - tulips, windmills, cheese and people riding bicycles - are a kind of tourist cliche of what you will find in the Netherlands, I think they're pretty representative of the real place too. Maybe not clogs though. At least not the wooden kind. How uncomfortable!

1. Tulips
My mother has long had an obsession with tulips and I guess some of that interest has been passed down. And it turns out that if you hit the Netherlands in early summer you will see tulips EVERYWHERE. My big favourite is to visit the Keukenhof Gardens, a magical place for anyone who even slightly likes flowers. Especially tulips, of course.

Tulips in Keukenhof
Keukenhof is a bit of a tourist mecca, but that doesn't mean that tulips aren't actually a proper Dutch icon. I remember driving out of Keukenhof and five minutes later coming across massive fields of tulips at the side of the road. And I thought, yes, this is tulip country!


2. Windmills
I grew up a long way from the Netherlands. But I'm pretty sure I thought even as a tiny kid that windmills came from there! (Wikipedia tells me otherwise so skip over here for a brief history of windmills if you're keen). On one trip to the Netherlands (living next door in Germany meant I made several then) I discovered I'd be passing near by Kinderdijk, a place with a whole bunch of windmills thanks to a couple of rivers meeting up there. And it's so magical - I have millions of windmill photos from my afternoon there. Millions!


Whether or not these windmills are all still needed is a question beyond me (I suspect they're mostly there to look pretty now - it's a World Heritage site - but correct me if I'm wrong) but I can't imagine the country without them.

3. Cheese
Who doesn't like cheese? And who doesn't know about cheeses like Edam and Gouda? Well, I guess someone doesn't, but I sure do and they are so tasty and so Dutch. Driving back towards Germany one day I saw on the map that Gouda was close by so we stopped in for some afternoon tea.

I was enormously pleased when, half way through my hot chocolate, a truck pulled up next to where I was sitting on the main square and proceeded to unload these huge racks of cheese. A real life cheese experience - not just a cliche!

4. Cycling
The story goes that the Netherlands is a particularly flat country, and not too large, and that everyone loves to ride bicycles everywhere. My experience definitely confirms this cliche. I remember seeing large bicycle parking lots along the canals when I took a cruise through Amsterdam, and I could also clearly see how navigating through the narrow streets by bike would be a lot easier than trying to commute to work by car. But my favourite cycling moment was seeing this man riding along in full cycling clothes ... and dragging his suitcase with him. That's one way to go on holidays!

Any other cliches?
If you think of the Netherlands, what else springs to mind? Do you think it's true or just something the tourist brochures say?

16 comments:

  1. ha, I grew up in Germany 4 miles from the Dutch border (we used to cycle there ;) ) and can confirm those, too! Another thing that doesn't seem to be a cliche is that all Dutch people are insanely nice - except for Amsterdam. As most tourists only visit Amsterdam these days, I guess that's why that is not a famous notion.

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    1. Ha! You used to cycle there - love it. Very glad to hear you can confirm my cliches are true. And you're right, it's also my experience that Dutch people are super-friendly (although it's true that the people I'm thinking of are not from Amsterdam!).

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  2. Well, clogs. The Dutch tourist board does a lot to promote this image by the way - their stand at World Travel Market usually features a real live clog maker. And there is any amount of info about tulips and windmills!
    I always think of Dutch people drinking beer for breakfast, something which surprised me when I became old enough to notice. :D

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    1. They drink beer for breakfast? Cool, I didn't know that one!
      The clogs I saw were at a very touristy kind of village and I wonder if there are any real Dutch people who actually wear them .. though they are pretty cool.

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    2. Neither did I and I'm dutch and have lived here my entire life. I don't know anyone who drinks beer at breakfast...

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    3. Thanks Nathalie - good to hear a real Dutch perspective!! Beer at breakfast does seem odd to me ... even for an Aussie!

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  3. Yeah I heard of the windmills and tulips - but I will forever associate Amsterdam with legal weed and the windows with pros in them! The Sex Museum was cool too.

    As I know a number of Dutch people quite well in NZ and I still can't get how family-centered they are - but also how the whole sex and drugs thing happens alongside with no real conflict.

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    1. Good point Lissie - I also see the Dutch as being a good combination of family-oriented fun in combination with what might be illegal in our countries - strange mix but somehow it all seems to fit!

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  4. pot and prostitution in Amsterdam was my first thought, also good soccer players and kickboxers

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    1. Ah, kickboxers - there's one I wouldn't have thought of! Duly noted.

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  5. Clogs instantly came to mind..the power of marketing!I also think of canals. Photos of houseboats on a canal with a bicycle leaning against the bridge come to mind!!

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    1. Ah, so true, the houseboat/bicycle cliche ... I'm assuming that actually very few Dutch actually live on houseboats!

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  6. I'm actually in the NL right now! We're visiting my in-laws. Although there are plenty of things I associate with the NL, it's become almost like a second home for me, so sometimes it's harder to notice the differences. Here are some, though....

    I understand that clogs are still worn on the farms.

    I also thought of the canals. And for me, the flat, smooth roads are just wonderful - especially for napping off jet-lag while my husband does the driving :)

    What about food? Poffertjes, pancakes, stroopwaffel, oliebollen for New Year's - lekker!! We also always have to have shoarma when we're in the NL. Not very Dutch, but it has a presence here. And snack stands with French fries (with mayo) and kroket. I just stick to the fries myself.

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    1. Oh, lots of lovely experiences there! Germans put mayo with their fries too and I must say I rather like it (my waistline probably doesn't though!).

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  7. I'm a British woman who's lived here in the Netherlands for nearly 18 years. I've never seen the Dutch drink beer for breakfast, nor do I find them all insanely nice, although there are lots of great Dutch people! I find the Dutch extremely patriotic and quite a healthy nation; nearly every Dutch person I know does some kind of sport in whatever form that may be. Apparently Dutch children are the happiest in Europe and I can believe that. The Dutch have a very no-nonsense approach to raising children and don't seem to spoil their kids too much (hand up here as a guilty English mum). It's a great place to live, not as tolerant as the rest of the world may think, the level of racism surprised me as I grew up thinking the Netherlands tolerated everything and everybody....

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    1. Lovely to hear about the happy Dutch children - and my hand goes up too, I should probably be more no-nonsense too! I'm also surprised to hear that the tolerance isn't so great though - also true of Australia though.

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