Beyond Amsterdam

Today being Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), the national holiday of the Netherlands, I think it’s time I wrote something about the country that all four of my grandparents left to start new lives in Canada.

Many years ago, I was standing in line at Amsterdam Centraal Station, the city’s main train station, waiting to change some money. (This was back in the olden days, before ATMs.) An American came up behind me, asked if I spoke English, and we started chatting, as backpackers do, about where we’d been and where we were going. I explained to him that I was nearly finished my trip, and was going to spend a couple of weeks in the Netherlands before returning home to Canada.

“A couple of weeks!” he said.

“I have some relatives to visit,” I explained.

“Oh! Well, that’s good,” he replied. “Because there isn’t much to see here.”

“Oh?” I said. He then began to tell me about the Red Light District, which I quickly gathered was about all he had seen of Amsterdam.

“But have you seen anything else of Holland?” I interrupted him.

“Is there more to see besides Amsterdam?” He sounded surprised. “What?”

“Uh, well … there’s the whole country,” I said.

“Oh! Is it pretty? Are there mountains?”

I was struggling to come up with a polite response when, just then, it was my turn at the change window. The conversation ended rather abruptly as I turned my back to him. “Idiot,” I muttered to myself. “Are there mountains?”

I know the Netherlands isn’t high on most people’s lists of countries to visit. Nor do I expect it to be. But I do want my readers to know that, for a tiny nation, the Netherlands has a whole lot of country if you take the time to venture beyond Amsterdam. I took this photo one day in August 2007 when I was cycling outside of Zaandam, a town just north of Amsterdam.

No mountains. Just a lot of flatland. Beautiful, isn’t it?

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