Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hello from the Netherlands

Netherlands, the official name of Holland, means lowlands. Nearly half of the land in the Netherlands is below sea level so there are many dikes. A dike is a wall of earth that holds back the water. Have you ever heard of Hans Brinker? Over a hundred years ago Mary Elizabeth Mapes Dodge wrote a book called “Hans Brinker” that became very popular. The book included a story about a brave Dutch boy who put his finger in a dike to prevent a flood. When we were in Amsterdam, Yvonne, our guide for one day told us, “The story of Hans Brinker is not a true story. In fact the author never even visited the Netherlands.” But we think is a good story because it shows is that one person can make a difference.

There are many miles of canals throughout the country. We rented a small boat for a week. At night we tied up along side the canal and slept on the boat. We had a small stove so we prepared our meals onboard. The canals are busy with all kinds of boats. There were many bridges and some were so low that the bridge keeper had to raise the bridge so we could continue. We saw many windmills.

After we left the boat we went to Amsterdam where we visited the Anne Frank House. Anne Frank was a Jewish girl. During World War II the Germans were trying to get rid of all the Jewish people so it wasn’t safe for her in Amsterdam. Some very brave people agreed to hide Anne, her family and another family in a secret part of a building where Mr. Frank worked. In July 1942 the Frank family went into hiding. During the day they had to be quiet and could not even walk around for fear the people would hear them. Anna wrote in her diary, “A voice in me screams: Go out, breathe air, have fun…” But, of course she couldn’t. Someone, they don’t know who, told the Germans where they were hiding and they were arrested on August 4, 1944. The Franks were sent to prison. Only Anne’s father survived. When he returned to Amsterdam he was given Anne’s diary which had been saved by one of the people who had helped them when they were in hiding. Anne’s diary has been translated into many languages.

Not far from the Anne Frank house is the another secret place. It is called “Our Lord in the Attic.” This time it was the Catholics who were not allowed to worship freely. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Catholic were forbidden to hold public services so they held secret services in several places in Amsterdam. Yvonne told us that many people knew about the secret churches but turned a blind eye. Today the Dutch people are very tolerant of all religions. We think that is a good thing.

There are many interesting places to visit in Amsterdam including art and science museums. We especially liked the Vincent van Gogh Museum where we saw his famous sunflower paintings.

Not only does the Netherlands have a lot of canals and boats but bicycles are a common means of transportation. It is good exercise and doesn’t pollute the environment. The country is also noted for wooden shoes, which are not commonly worn today, and tulips, which are everywhere when in season.

At the end of our day tour, Yvonne suggested, “Let’s have hot chocolate.” We went to the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky where the hot chocolate was grand. The hot milk came with a lollipop of chocolate, which we swirled in the hot milk turning it into chocolate milk. Yummy.