Saturday, 23 August 2008

Let's go Dutch

Okay, so we may be taking a slight detour on our alternative Silk Route, but it'll be worth the trip. Sorry for misleading you, but the Netherlands is not the silkworm breeding capital of the world. However, there are a few things peculiar to Holland that the country has become rather uniquely famous for:

1) Windmills. There are around 1000 original windmills in Holland that are still fully operational.

2) Tulips. Apparently 75% of the entire world's flower bulb production comes from the Netherlands. Due to this, the Netherlands is the third largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, even though just 3% of the Dutch population are employed in this sector.

3) Clogs.

4) Bicycles. Holland has over 15,000 km of cycle lanes. Amsterdam alone has over a million bikes, but a population of only around 700,000. Every person in the Netherlands has at least one bicycle and there are twice as many bikes as cars in the country. How very eco-friendly...though the classic Dutch bicycle with its old fashioned iconic design (pictured below left) might be a bit more cumbersome than the more modern, but equally quirky and individual folding Mobiky (below right), currently available at ShopCurious.

5) Barges. The Netherlands has more than 4,000km of navigable rivers, lakes and canals. A quarter of the country is below sea level. When you land at Schipol airport, you are actually four meters below sea level. Rotterdam was once the world's largest port and is still the second largest. The name Amsterdam comes from the combination of the river Amstel and the Dam that was built on it.

6) Artists. From the old Dutch Masters to impressionsts such as Van Gogh, the Netherlands is a country that seems to inspire great artists and extraordinary works of art. I personally prefer the more contemporary style, like the painting below left called Card Players by Theo Van Doesburg (1917), who was a member of De Stijl (The Style) group of Dutch artists that included Mondrian. You can see this painting at the Haags Gemeentemuseum in the Hague. Karel Appel is another very important post 1945 Dutch artist, whose expressionist abstract style is also illustrated below and was a reaction against the strict formalism of De Stijl.

7) Crazy people. Holland always has a coalition government, so it's a country of compromise and tolerance. Amsterdam has over 300 coffee shops, which can legally sell up to 5 grams of soft drugs to each person. And of course, there's plenty of Amstel beer.

Unfortunately, we haven't time to visit any Dutch fashion designers, we'll have to leave that for a later date. I'm packing my vintage bags and am already getting curious about the next destination on our whirlwind tour.
Are you?

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