My beloved Holland: far from the stereotypes
I have always been questioned about my obsessive love for the Netherlands, and I still find myself searching for the most different explanations for something that seems particularly obvious to me, but for many - if not most – believe that I'm just being eccentric.
Holland’s geography, pitifully, is not the most attractive: much of the country is located below sea level and temperatures are always so very cold that can repel potential tourists in its own right. On the other hand, there is a misfigured common knowledge connected to the collective conscience of travelers who associate it, mostly, with the Red Light District and prostitution, cannabis, bicycles and Gouda cheese.
Few seek Holland as a top destination like France, Italy, Greece. If Holland is part of a travel itinerary, chances are big that it involves a desire to venture into the "perks" found in Amsterdam, or simply because the train access on a Paris, Germany or Belgium route is convenient.
When I visited one of the oldest Dutch cities called Maastricht - which borders France and Belgium and where the largest art and antiques fair in the world TEFAF (European Fair of Fine Arts) takes place - I felt a mixture of shock with enthusiasm when experiencing, by chance, the Dutch Carnival.
While winter makes the semi-nude parade unfeasible (Oh Gosh, I miss Brazilian tropical weather!), the celebration takes over the entire city with a sort of a Carnival song that sets the tone for lively and costumed blocks, whose ethylic connoisseurs circulate from pub to pub holding their glasses without a slightest derangement. Ash Wednesday not only silences the city, it also shows a system of order and cleanliness where there is no trace of glitter on the floor. The Dutch are proud of the efficiency of their public cleaning service.
But nothing is as fascinating as the Dutch tolerance (which happens to be a disguised pragmatism intertwined with oportunism). The same that allows society to naturally live with scenes of family dinners next to the Red Light's prostitution windows; or even that which motivated it to be the first country to legalize gay marriage, as well as the tolerance for drunken uncontrolled tourists fallen on the canals.
There is no insecurity and violence, poverty, disrespect for others, nor individualism in the community. As for Her majesty, Queen Máxima Zorreguieta, I've been told that she can be seen cycling to the supermarket like any other citizen, where she lives in the city of Den Haag (The Hague). I had the privilege of meeting her with King Willem-Alexander, on my birthday, during the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (2016). I had just returned to Brazil after a holiday season in Amsterdam, during the Gay Pride party period and, when sharing with the King about my experience, he naturally exclaimed: "It's fabulous, isn't it?". This comment alone says a lot about the elegance, education and respect that this wonderful couple has towards their country and citizens.
Back to Den Haag, it is located in a stunning coastal region, home to Holland’s most pop resort, the beach of Scheveningen; you shouldn’t miss the Madurodam park that reproduces its iconic cities in miniature. A must-go place.
Organization is a key word in The Netherlands. The Dutch have a pragmatic mindset and everything in their life is done or taught with pragmatism. Even the rebuilding of Rotterdam - in response to the bombings of World War II - made it a landmark in architecture. Unique in the world, the curvy giant Markthal is a spectacle of modern construction that combines homes with a large fresh food market. It's divine!
Choose between visiting the tulip fields in Keukenhoff park; "biking" (yes, this verb is conjugated in Dutch) along the windmills of Kinderdijk (UNESCO World Heritage Site); dress in orange and jump from boat to boat at the famous Koningsdag party; stroll through beautiful Utrecht with the most beautiful canals in the country; face the cold and distant Groningen to the north where there is an ecological seal protection park; or even discover the energy that takes over the innovative and technological Eindhoven... the chance of falling in love with Holland is big.
Before you go, forget everything you've heard about the Netherlands and travel with an open mind and a free spirit.