Published: July 14th 2010July 14th 2010
Go the dutch! The local establishments fly the flag before kick off.
The tournament's two best football teams ran onto Soccer City stadium in Soweto to decide the World Cup, in anticipation of a finale to captivate the world. Oh yeah, The Netherlands and Spain lining up for an epic decider is sure to tantalise the world's football lovers. During the golden age of Dutch attacking football in the 70's the Oranje perfected the concept of Total Football, and with the legendary Johan Cruyff leading the line they destroyed all opposition to qualify for consecutive World Cup finals in '74 and '78. However, they finally succumbed to the host nation on each occasion. Now the present day Dutch team has the chance to make amends for those two agonising last gasp defeats, but first they have to overcome a great Spanish team, who themselves have suffered just two defeats in the last four years. Spanish football is also steeped in the tradition of Total Football, due to the strong Barcelona influence within the current team. The excitement is palpable and guess what ... I'm right in the thick of it here in Amsterdam.
I flew in from Sydney the day before the final, the lovely reader
, and the two day build
up for the night time kick off has been a real thrill. A sea of orange swarmed around the city centre in a constant buzz of excitement; with singing, waving flags, and blowing on vuvuzelas (only orange ones of course!) all adding to the atmosphere. On the night of the final the vibe was electric, and the third place play off between Germany and Uruguay last night was a cracker of a spectacle to get us in the mood. So I settled at the local bar with a couple of American guys from the White Tulip hostel and a heaving crowd of locals. At the last moment we were joined at our table by a young Dutch couple who had everything riding on the match. As the world knows a tough contest between two immensely talented teams was only decided in extra time, after an unmarked Iniesta slotted home what proved to be the winning goal. There were to be no wild celebrations that night in Amsterdam, but in sport there can only be one winner. If anyone experienced the victory in Spain I'd love to hear your thoughts, as the fiesta celebrations at home celebrated the crowning of the
Houses in South Holland
Gorgeous houses in a lovely seaside town.
new world champions.
I really feel for the Dutch, but the city handled the disappointment with consummate good grace as you would expect. Two days after the final the players returned to the Netherlands for an audience with the Queen at her palace in The Hague, to be followed by a unique Amsterdam parade through the canals this gorgeous city is famed for. It's estimated over half a million fans welcomed the team home as they crowded around every vantage point on the bridges along the route, and the Oranje are an absolute credit to their nation. With all this excitement, it's hard to realise this is my first visit to one of the world's most famous cities, and there is so much to see and do during a week travelling in The Netherlands.
Amsterdam is one of those cities that just has to be explored. It seems you can wander around endlessly, and still come across wonderful things to see and do. That's what makes Europe such a wonderful travel destination, it's the pure vibrancy of the cities that gives such a thrill. The canals were meticulously designed centuries ago, and there is a general sense of
Tourists stroll in Madurodam
Replicas of famous Dutch buildings at exactly twenty five times smaller.
order and calm about the city. A superb tram system is complimented by regular bus routes and dedicated bicycle paths on every street. Cars are taxed heavily in the city centre, and the overall effect is one to be envied. There are bike riders absolutely everywhere in Amsterdam, and what lives in my memory are the ratty old one gear bikes to avoid theft, and the pretty girls riding along in summer dresses. Amsterdam is a wonderful city!
I've taken the opportunity to go on a few tours while based at a hostel in the heart of the capital. The Netherlands is a small country and so much can be done by taking tours for the day to see other parts of the country. The first tour was to North Holland where we visited a cheese factory to see how the Dutch make their famous product, to be followed by cheese tasting and the chance to purchase some product in the factory shop. The cheese I sampled was delicious, and they had a variety of flavours to choose from. Then we pushed on to view traditional Dutch windmills, some of them dating back to the early 1600's. The countryside
features many old windmills, some are tourist attractions to explore, some have been converted into accommodation or restaurants, but they're all quintessentially Dutch! To complete the Dutch travel experience we visited a wooden shoe factory to get the low down on the history behind the famous Dutch clogs. We witnessed a machine designed to make the wooden shoes with an excellent presentation by a Dutch lady, who wears her clogs every day. She informed us it takes five years to learn the craft of making wooden shoes by hand.
While riding on the bus our guide explained (in four languages by the way) the comprehensive Delta Works that protect up to 20% of the Netherlands situated below sea level. An extraordinary engineering achievement means the Dutch can now live without fear of flooding in the southwest of The Netherlands. The Dutch also have a term called new land which applies to former lakes that have been drained and reclaimed for farming. This phenomena is starkly clear when you ride on the bus on elevated roads protected against the sea by dikes, where it's clear the farmland is below sea level. It's all part of what makes The Netherlands a
great travel destination.
The second tour I enjoyed was to South Holland where we visited The Hague, the seat of government in The Netherlands but not the capital which is reserved for Amsterdam. We visited the Peace Palace where the International Court of Justice sits, and also visited the palace of Queen Beatriz. All of the embassies and ambassador's residences are also located in the third largest city in The Netherlands, and it was a fascinating tour to the European heart of the UN. Then we headed to Madurodam miniature park in Scheveningen within The Hague, to experience The Netherlands in a nutshell so to speak. All of the country's famous buildings, ports, airports, railways, palaces, and parks are there to enjoy at exactly 25 times smaller than the original. The level of detail is astonishing, and I marveled at the landscaping used to keep the real miniature gardens within the park to scale. That must take an enormous amount of work. So here I am back in Amsterdam, enjoying the great city, the nightlife and her marvelous people. In fact the Netherlands is an absolute must on any European travel itinerary, basically all of you should be here
I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' and God granted it." Voltaire
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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