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《Visiting Holland and Belgium - Knowing More About Them》__ Daniel Ho (67)

In terms of physical size, the nations of The Netherlands, which has been called the land of windmills and tulips, and Belgium are relatively small.  On the other hand, they have their unique history, culture and scenic beauties.  In early spring of 2016, my wife and I went to Europe to tour Holland and Belgium, by river cruise.  The places visited included the Dutch destinations of Amsterdam, Edam, Volendam, Arnhem, Nijmegen, Willemstad, Kinderdijk, Keukenhof, and the Belgian tourist sites of Antwerp, Bruges.  It was an eye-opener for us.  It was our first time touring Belgium.  We also learnt more about Holland.

During the last few centuries, Belgium was at one time, at least, part of Holland politically.  Now, they are separate nations although both belong to the European Union.  The headquarters of EU is located in Brussels, Belgium.  Belgium does not have its own unique language.  Instead, it has three official languages.  The language spoken in that part of Belgium, which is close to France and under French influence, is French.  The Belgium people living in the area, which is near Holland and under Dutch influence, speak Dutch.  The third official language is German, showing the German impact.

Holland had been the name of the country of the Dutch people for centuries.  Now, the official name of the nation is The Netherlands, meaning the “lower countries”, however, the rest of the world and even the Dutch themselves still use “Holland” synonymously with “The Netherlands”.

The orange color is closely associated with Holland and is almost like the national color of the nation.  According to a local tour guide, the average height of a Dutch man is 6 feet 2 inches.  It is not surprising to notice that many of the Dutch people are tall.  The Dutch have acquired the skills and know-hows of making cheese and produce a huge amount of cheese every year.  Holland is the largest cheese exporter in the world.  On the other hand, Belgium is one of the world’s top chocolate makers.  Clogs are iconic footwear of the Dutch.  The traditional clogs are made of hard wood.  Apparently, the clogs elevate the person’s feet well above the ground, since most of the grounds of the nation are soaked with water.  The clogs also act like safety shoes, protecting the person who wears them.

Because of its physical disadvantage of situating below the sea level, the nation of The Netherlands is constantly under the threat of flood and faces the potential possibility of being wiped out by water.  The international Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam is the largest airport in the world, which is located beneath sea level.  For continual national survival, the Dutch people have developed the technologies to protect the country from water and drain away unwanted water.  Holland therefore benefits economically from selling such technologies and scientific know-hows to other countries.

I do not embrace the “open” moral standards of The Netherlands.  On the other hand, the Dutch people have had their achievements and influence.  I am not sure if the windmill was invented by the Dutch or not, however, the original or early construction of the Dutch windmill was rather ingenious in its time way back.  The idea and wide usage of the windmills by the Dutch to harvest energy from the wind was certainly ahead of the time, considering now people are still advocating or in the process of adopting the use of “green” energy.  Philips, the technology company, and Royal Dutch Shell (commonly known as Shell), the petroleum company, are Dutch companies.  Several centuries ago, Holland, under the name of the Dutch East India Company and backed by the Dutch fleet of ships, reached far into other parts of the world and colonized places (including that in Asia, Africa, Central America.)  For example, Indonesia was once a colony of Holland.  Two world famous master painters, van Gogh and Rembrandt, were Dutch.

One historic icon of the Dutch country scenery is the windmill.  Previously, I thought that windmill was used to grind grain.  I was wrong.  The greater part of the nation of Holland is situated under sea level and is walled off from the sea by extensive dams and dykes.  The main usage of Dutch windmills in the past was to pump and drain unwanted water from the land.  Of course, now modern sources of power (e.g. electrical) are being used for such function and so the windmills have become obsolete.   The picturesque village of Kinderdijk has the greatest concentration of windmills in Holland.

Arnhem is the place where the parachute soldiers of the allied nations fought hard against the Nazi army towards the end of the Second World War.  The Arnhem Airborne Museum was built at Arnhem to commemorate the sacrifice of the allied airborne soldiers.  Those who died during the campaign, including some Canadian soldiers, were buried at the war cemetery at Arnhem.

Bruges in Belgium is a world-renowned medieval town which had not been destroyed during the Second World War.  As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its historical treasure and beautiful scenery are obvious when one arrives there.

One advertised highlight of this river cruise was seeing the bloom of tulips.  Unfortunately, the weather of this spring in Western Europe was still cold.  So when we were there, there were not too many tulips and other flowers which had come out outdoor.  We visited the 70-acre Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, which is purportedly the largest bulb park in the world.  It is a very beautiful and well-designed garden.  There were several pavilions in the garden.  Inside the Willem-Alexander Pavilion, any visitor would be amazed by the huge number and large varieties of gorgeous tulip bulbs.  The indoor showroom of the Beatrix Pavilion houses numerous kinds of colorful orchids.  Queen Beatrix of Holland sought asylum in Ottawa during the WW2 when the Germans occupied her country.  This started Holland’s giving of their tulips to Canada, after the war.

The Netherlands and Belgium are two countries, with much historical heritage, tranquil towns and countryside and exquisite sceneries, worth visiting.  There are extensive canals and rivers in these two nations.  These waterways render these countries rather uniquely picturesque.

Album of Visiting Holland and Belgium

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