Interactive Website Shows Cleanest, Dirtiest European Beaches

beaches, Cyprus
Wikimedia Commons

It’s getting to be that time of year again. People are heading to the beaches, especially around the Mediterranean.

Now choosing one has been made easier by a new interactive website by the European Environment Agency. The agency has released its 2012 figures for water quality of 23,511 “bathing waters.” The website has them broken down by country and region. While most are beaches, popular inland swimming areas such as lakes are also included.

Some countries do better than others. Cyprus may be in economic doldrums, but 100% of their beaches have clean water. Slovenia, the subject of an upcoming series here on Gadling, gets equally high praise for its narrow strip of shoreline.

Scientists examined samples of water over several months in 2012, looking for evidence of pollution. It turns out 93 percent of sites had at least the minimum standard set by the European Union. The worst countries were Belgium, with 12 percent substandard swimming areas, and The Netherlands, with 7 percent.

Classic Dutch Town Reflects Past, Embraces Present

dutch town

Hoorn is a little Dutch town in North Holland about 35 kilometers out of Amsterdam. Founded in 716, Hoorn was a major harbor town and center of trade during Holland’s Golden Age of the 17th Century. Still honoring its rich history, much of Hoorn looks like it did a century ago. We stopped by for a visit and found Hoorn to be one of those places where visitors feel like capturing a photo in any direction they look.

Hoorn’s original claim to fame came from being a home base for the Dutch East India Company. Its Hoorn fleet of tall-masted sailing ships traveled the world, returning with exotic spices, sold at a great profit. As the home to skilled traders, Hoorn mariners had a good reputation for traveling far and returning with precious commodities. Profits from the spice trade served the local economy well when other areas struggled.Today, Hoorn harbor looks much like it may have hundreds of years ago. Still a seafaring town, on any given day, ships clog Hoorn’s harbor. But today, mixed in with facades dating back to the town’s beginning are mixed in modern transportation options, pubs, shops and museums that celebrate its memories.

Throughout history, Hoorn has been a center of activity for the region. A good example of a classic Dutch town on one hand, Hoorn also embraces the present, hosting annual fairs, exhibits and a first-run movie theater.

Not far from Hoorn are a bunch of other places popular with travelers visiting Holland. The historic city of Volendam, the railway station in Purmerend and the city of Zaandam are all close by. But Hoorn has some new attractions of its own too, as we see in this video.



[Image credit - Chris Owen]

What’s The Difference Between Holland And The Netherlands? This Video Tells You

Remember that fast-talking fellow with all of the nifty geography lessons? The guy who sorted out the difference among Great Britain, England and the UK for us in one dandy film? Well he’s back, and he’s here to explain the proper use between The Netherlands and Holland. I won’t ruin the surprise for you, but the geographic difference was quite enlightening.

His name is CGP Grey, by the way, and he also sells T-shirts strangely. Check out his whole feed here.

Getting To Know The Faces Of Holland


bikes


Holland‘s most recent campaign, “Faces of Holland,” allows travelers to get to know the iconic facets of the region. Here are the six “faces,” and how you can meet them for yourself.

Bicycles

Biking and Holland are almost synonymous. In fact, out of Holland’s 16 million inhabitants, 18 million own bicycles, which means there are more bikes than people. With a flat landscape and over 18,000 cycling paths, there are many opportunities to enjoy the active pursuit.

Renting Bicycles

Biking in Holland is safe and there are many marked routes, even in busy cities. In Amsterdam, a majority of bikes are old-fashioned, one-speed cycles with a back-pedal brake. You can get a biking map from the tourist office, which also gives information on safety, routes, repair shops and restricted areas. Major rental shops include Bike City, which use traditional bikes to disguise you as a local, Mike’s Bike Tours, which offers daily tours and rentals, and Damstraat Rent-a-Bike, one of the cheapest options.Amstel Gold Race

This race began in 1966, with the original organizers being sponsored by Amstel Gold. The brewing company has been a part of the event ever since. Generally, it’s held in April, with the best international professional teams riding from the market at Maastricht to the Cauberg in Valkenburg. The race is part of the UCI World Tour.

Limburgs Mooiste

Originally a touring version of the Amstel Gold Race, the event expanded into professional and family tours. Professional routes include two 60-mile tracks, one with more hills than the other, and a 93-mile challenge. The next event will be Sunday, May 26, 2013.

4Days Cycling the Achterhoek

At this annual cycling event, riders cycle distances of 16 to 37 miles in the Achterhoek past castles, windmills, forests and farmlands. The next event will be August 6 through 9, 2013.


cheese


Cheese

The Dutch love cheese. In fact, they eat about seven pounds of it each year per person. Holland is home to two famous cheese destinations, Gouda and Edam. Gouda, the city of cheese and stroopwafels, or syrup waffles, has earned an international reputation thanks to its rich gouda cheese. A visit to both places in the summer will allow you to see a traditional cheese market, with the delicacy being traded in the same way it was centuries ago. In Gouda, you can find the market on the square between ‘Waag’ and City Hall. In Edam, 18th century cheese warehouses sit along the canal, with the market being in Jan van Nieuwenhuizen Square.

Even when it’s not summer, visitors can still enjoy Holland’s rich cheese culture. In Amsterdam, there are a plethora of cheese shops where you can go to sample a large variety of cheeses, which is one of the city’s top three exports. If you want many choices, head to L’Amuse, located on Stadionweg in the Oud Zuid neighborhood. With over 400 varieties, their cheeses are stored in climate-controlled facilities specific for each cheese. Additionally, Kaashandel Kef on Marnixstraat was the first to specialize in French cheese and is still well respected for their French and Dutch types. To taste cheeses from one of the most popular shops in the city, visit
Reypenaer Shop and Tasting Room on Singel. This small cheese company offers tastings and classes in their basement.

For another cheese experience, visit the Alkmaar Cheese Museum. Located on the second and third floors of the Alkmaar cheese-weighing house, visitors can learn about cheese making, its history and how it relates to the culture of Holland. Some exhibits include illustrating the contrasts between cheese making on a farm and in a factory, as well as historic portraits and life-sized costumes of North Holland 16th century dress. Guided tours are available throughout the year with a reservation.


portrait


Dutch Masters

Many influential and pioneering artists like Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen and Frans Hals were Dutch, developing an international reputation in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Dutch Masters changed the art world with their brush strokes before, during and after the “golden era of painting.” Additionally, they positively affected the culture in the 17th century as trade grew and battles were won, allowing more people to afford art.

There are various museums located around Holland where you can see the works of these Dutch Masters. In Amsterdam, there’s the Rembrandt House Museum, which showcases works from the artist and gives free demonstrations on how Rembrandt made his etchings and prepared his paint. There’s also the Rijksmuseum, which features paintings from the Dutch Golden Age as well as Asian works, and the Vincent Van Gogh Museum, where you can learn about the artist’s life and see his art. Outside of Amsterdam, you can head to Delft to visit the Vermeer Centre and see the work of Johannes Vermeer. And in the Hague, you’ll find an expansive collection of Golden Age paintings in the Mauritshuis.


canals


Canals

Many Dutch cities, like Amersfoort, Alkmaar, Dordrecht, Leiden, Utrecht, Leeuwarden and Groningen, were built with canals as a focus. The most famous canal city in Holland is, of course Amsterdam, whose canal district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, the city’s name is the “Venice of the North.” Along with simply strolling along these waterways, you can experience them in the following ways.

floating dutchmanRenting Boats

Renting boats and floating around the city, taking photos and enjoying a picnic.

The Floating Dutchman

The Floating Dutchman is a floating bus tour in Amsterdam (shown right), that starts at the airport Schiphol or the Amsterdam City Center, drives around the city then splashes into the water to continue the tour for 45 minutes through the canals.

The Houseboat Museum

Located in Amsterdam near the Anne Frank House, The Houseboat Museum was created by houseboat owner Vincent van Loon when he noticed how curious visitors were about his floating home. You can take a tour and learn about houseboat living and typical Dutch decor, purchase a gift in the shop or grab a coffee in the 1950s style Dutch-lounge.


tulips


Tulips

Holland is home to the world’s largest flower park, Keukenhof, where seven million tulips bloom annually. Their love of tulips runs deep, and there are numerous sites and events taking place each year to help locals and visitors experience it for themselves.

Amsterdam’s Floating Flower Market

Located in the Singel Canal, flowers are sold on floating barges. First held in 1862, the market is a symbol of the old days when plants were shipped and sold on boats. It’s open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays between 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Amsterdam Tulip Museum

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum is located in the Jordaan neighborhood and outlines the history of the tulip in the Netherlands. While small in size, visitors can learn interesting facts like how tulips were used as food during wartime and how the flower helped the Dutch economy during the mid-17th century.

Holland’s Botanical Gardens

There are many worthwhile botanical gardens throughout Holland showcasing their prized tulip. The oldest in the Netherlands is Horus Botanicus located in Leiden, which has been collecting and analyzing plants for over four centuries. There’s also Hortus Haren in Haren, which has 20 acres and 15 gardens of tulips, fruits, herbs, coffee bushes, cinnamon trees, Chinese gardens and more.

Events

There is an array of tulip events throughout Holland. “Get Into The Greenhouse” takes place the first weekend in April. This is when greenhouse owners allow visitors to learn about produce and flower cultivation, see demonstrations and take cooking classes. There’s also the annual Tulip Festival each spring in the Noordoostpolder, home the largest amount of tulips in the country. Attendees can hike, bike or take a wagon tour or a carriage ride through the flowers. In the winter, travelers can experience the Holland Flowers Festival and stroll through colorful gardens, learn about cultivation and be exposed to the latest trends in Dutch gardening.


windmills


Windmills

Windmills are a large part of Holland’s culture, with five of the world’s largest windmills being in the center of Schiedam in South Holland. They are over 130 feet high, and played a large roll in the production of gin. Additionally, in the village of Kinderdijk you can find a UNESCO Heritage-titled mill network of 19 polder draining windmills. Along with visiting these areas, you can experience windmill culture through:

Windmill And Beer At Brouwerij ‘t IJ

Brouwerij ‘t IJ in Amsterdam is a combination of windmill and brewery, as it sits in front of Molen de Gooyer windmill allowing visitors to experience Dutch culture in two different ways. The beer is 100% organic, and the tasting bar is open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Originally built in 1725, Molen de Gooyer is one of six original windmills in Amsterdam still standing today.

Molen de Valk

Built in 1785, Molen de Valk in Leiden was made into a municipal museum in 1966, with exhibits on the milling process, books and tools from the last miller. The windmill is still in operation, and you can purchase flour onsite.

Celebrating National Mill Day

Each year on the second Saturday of May, the locals of Holland celebrate National Mill Day. This is when 600 watermills and windmills welcome the public to come learn more about this Dutch icon. Not surprisingly, many locals like to explore the mills by bike.

[Images via the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions]

Photo Of The Day: Turkish Tulips

Photo Of The Day - Turkish tulips

April showers bring May flowers, as the saying goes. We’re getting plenty of rain this month in Turkey, but we’ve had flowers. April is the big month for tulips in Istanbul, and you can see them planted all over town as 11.5 million were planted for this year’s season. I took today’s photo at Emirgan Park, one of the prime viewing spots of the Istanbul Tulip Festival. There are over 100 varieties planted in Emirgan Park alone, many in interesting patterns like the nazar evil eye, a major symbol of Turkish superstition.

You probably associate tulips with Holland, but it was Ottoman Turks who first cultivated them and introduced them to the Dutch in the 17th century. Today, Turkey is trying to reclaim the flower, growing millions of tulips with a goal of becoming an exporter again by 2014. Along with fresh flowers, you can see the influence of the tulip in the shape of the Turkish tea glasses, and as legend has it, the shape of the sultan’s turbans.

Have a springtime photo to share with us? Add it to the Gadling Flickr pool for our next Photo of the Day.