We have visited Holland 3 times, once in 1984, then again in 1985 - each time was only for about 2 weeks. In 2001 we spent 8 weeks
in Holland, 4 weeks of which was spent touring and seeing most of what Holland has to offer for settlement. We actually registered
to live in Utrecht, this is a requirement before one can obtain bank accounts, medical insurance and any official status in the country
It is a fascinating country with an unique culture. Unlike the south of France, houses in Holland are in pristine condition, rarely does one ever see a house in need of repair. However, since our visits there 15 years ago, we find the cities have become much dirtier, and less safe - much to the consternation and anger of the average born & bred Hollander.
Being very interested in boats of all sizes and shapes we took every opportunity to visit as many harbours as possible. The condition of 99% of all pleasure boats is also impressive, they are immaculate, mostly all the newer ones are steel and all exactly the same design and layout. Although they are steel, the paintwork and finish leave nothing to be desired. Quite often we saw a boat over 30 years old with an immaculate paint finish, with no signs of rust streaks or corrosion.
TIP - Warning - credit cards are not the norm in Holland, so please ensure you always have cash on hand. It is impossible to buy groceries using a credit card, it is impossible to cash money at bank using your credit card, even if you go into a MasterCard or Visa bank. One can only do these sorts of transactions at the GWK Bank, situated at some major city railway stations. Many pavement restaurants do not take credit cards - a cause of much embarrassment on a number of occasions. This may have changed since 2001.
The service in most eating establishments is shockingly slow - without fear of contradiction the service is amongst the worst in the world, and the staff are totally indifferent if one ventures a suggestion or complaint. I think the service is second only to the service in New Zealand, but at least in NZ, the waiting staff are friendly albeit useless. Don't expect to be taken notice of if you complain. Also, don't expect to get a full cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, the cup is always 3/4 full - don't try to have it topped up. Ask for milk for your tea and it will cost nearly a dollar (US) extra. The cost of an average main course at a normal restaurant is around G30, (US$ 14).
Food such as 'Broodje Haring' (raw herring on a roll with onion), Broodje Mackerel are available from most take out shops, and they are generally very tasty & of very high quality. Smoked eel is available almost everywhere but it is advisable to have a local with you when you buy - they know which ones to buy & which to not buy
Although I have very little interest in flowers, a visit to Keukenhof in the tulip season was a stunning visual feast. The variety of tulips is beyond belief, each one more beautiful than the next. The gardens are enormous and very well laid out, during the tulip season the park is very busy. Very well worth a visit.
Highlights were the Zuidzee Museum and Enkhuizen, an old living village. We also attended a tug boat festival in Vianen, near Utrecht, where the collection and condition of the boats on show was fantastic. Later that night over 70 of these boats, all fully lit up with many lights sailed on the river into a lock, then into Vianen. It was a truly memorable sight.
The Dutch spend an enormous amount of time eating, whether at home or at pavement cafes. There is also no lack of sweet delicacies as well - spekulaas biscuits, plain and gevulde (filled with marzipan), and as Yvonne loves salt liquorices (zoute drop), she never failed to try any new types she saw. She grew up in Holland and spent most of her time trying to recapture her youth, which was no doubt spent eating sweets by the pocketful. It is difficult to visit Holland without sampling all the wonderful cakes, breads and 'stroop wafels' ( waffles in syrup ) - it is also difficult to spend any time there without putting on extra weight. As they say in Holland, "eet smaklik" (eat well)
Driving - by US standards driving is difficult in Holland. Because there is so much water around, in canals and rivers, seldom are the roads or highways in a straight line. There are daily traffic jams (backups) and it always took us ages to get anywhere. Distances seem much further than elsewhere because of the roads. I think the only other place we have experienced traffic like this is in parts of Vancouver, Seattle and Bangkok. Even in LA the traffic seems to move better because of the large highways.