Seven Surprising Things About the Netherlands
The country is more than tulips, canals, and wooden shoes!
Don’t call the Netherlands “Holland” — that’s actually just one region of this small, flat country in Northwestern Europe.
In fact, the Netherlands literally means “the lower countries,” because most of the country is at sea level, and at least a quarter is below sea level, with the water held back by a series of dikes and canals.
Brent and I recently wrapped up a whirlwind, ten-day visit to the Netherlands. Here are seven other surprising things we discovered.
1) The Dutch do bike a lot — but not for fun.
You’ve probably heard how everyone rides bikes everywhere in the very flat Netherlands. And it’s true! Take a look at this three-level bike structure in central Amsterdam, where commuters store their thousands of bikes:
But during Brent’s and my stay in the small town of Gouda, our good Dutch friend Miek took us for a bike ride through the beautiful countryside. I asked Miek how often she went on bike rides just for fun.
“We Dutch bike to work,” she told me. “We bike to school. We bike to the store. But we definitely do not bike for fun.”
Which surprised me, because Brent and I are huge bikers, and it’s almost always for fun.
But, of course, it immediately made sense. In the Netherlands, bikes are utilitarian, like cars in America.
In fact, the more I looked, the more I saw how the Dutch have a crazy range of bikes and bike-equipment to facilitate all of the non-fun things they have to do on a daily basis. Parents have bikes with seats for kids on the front and the back — and when they get too big for that, there is a bike that has a covered compartment at the front for the kids to sit in.
There are bikes with wagons attached at either the front or the back for hauling goods; bikes with tall compartments for package deliveries; and bikes for, well, I’m not entirely sure what some of them are for.
But weirdly, despite all these bikes (and different kinds of bikes), no one ever wears a helmet.
The Dutch do sometimes have fun with bikes, but only when they’re not being ridden:
2) You aren’t high, those Amsterdam houses really are tilted.
If you walk around Amsterdam stoned — which is a real possibility, since this is the marijuana capital of the world — you might not notice all the crazily-tilted houses.
But if you walk around sober, the houses will still be tilted.
Turns out there’s two reasons for all of those off-kilter buildings.
The first is the fact Amsterdam was built on a swamp. Because of that swampy ground, buildings in Amsterdam had to be built on wooden pilings — ten million of them! — pounded through the peaty bottom of the swamp until they hit solid ground.
However, over the centuries, those pilings started to rot. And when that happened, houses started to tilt.
Fortunately, Amsterdam houses are often very tall and narrow, built right up against their neighbors. And many times, the leaning houses wound up supporting each other!
The second reason many houses are tilted? They were built that way on purpose, designed to lean slightly forward. Why? Because then goods and furniture could be lifted to the higher floors, bypassing the narrow doors and stairways inside. Being tilted forward, things being lifted up were less likely to bash into the front of the house.
Indeed, if you look closely, you’ll see another unique feature of Amsterdam housing: a beam jutting out from the middle of the roof with a hook at the end. The hook is used to winch the goods and furniture.
How clever is that? And once you notice it, you’ll see these hooks almost everywhere.
3) Amsterdammers really don’t like tourists. And we get it.
We visited Amsterdam in the middle of November — which we thought would be toward the end of the shoulder season — so we assumed the city would have far fewer tourists.
Boy, did we assume wrong.
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