A town with no roads: Giethoorn, Netherlands

I recently came across a story, complete with entrancing photos, on SlightlyWarped.com. “The Town with No Roads” captured my attention with its title and then I read on. The series, worth reading, from Slightly Warped is called “Curiosities” — and this curiosity is worth the intrigue. Giethoorn, Netherlands, is reminiscent of a fairytale. Tall trees and bushy shrubs are so well-placed alongside a quaint canal in this beautiful town that they seem to have been taken out of a Bob Ross painting. But the town’s aesthetic goes beyond tasteful landscaping, and that canal isn’t just for scenery. The village of Giethoorn does not contain roads. Citizens travel by boat through the interlocking canals, or by foot or bike. Located in the Dutch province of Overijssel, Giethoorn seems like a perfect place to escape to when in need of head-clearing.

Take the Holland Tulip Bike Tour

10 things you probably didn’t know about Holland

holland While Holland is well known for its bright flowers, the canals of Amsterdam, and wooden shoes, there are still many surprises to discover about this region. To help expand your knowledge, here are some things you probably didn’t know about Holland.

1. Rotterdam is the only Dutch city with a true skyline. In fact, it is so impressive the area is known as “Manhattan on the Meuse.” In terms of architecture, Rotterdam has a superb reputation, making it no wonder that the Netherlands Architecture Institute was also founded here.

2. Holland is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Schokland, the D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station, Wadden Sea, the Defense Line of Amsterdam, the Beemster Polder, the Rietveld Schröder House, the Mills of Kinderdijk, and the canals of Amsterdam.

3. In the late 16th century, gin was invented under the name jenever in the Netherlands and was sold as medicine.

4. Dutch people are the tallest in the world with the men averaging 6 feet 1 inch and women 5 feet 6 and one half inches tall.

5. The Dutch love cheese. Annually, they consume about 32 pounds of it.

6. Holland has more museums than any other region in the world. In fact, Amsterdam alone is home to over 50 of them.

7. In Holland, it is common for families to hang a Dutch flag and school bag outside their homes when children pass their exams.

8. Almost every person, regardless of class or status in Holland, owns a bike and there is double the amount of bikes as cars.

9. While Holland is known for its tulips, they were originally brought from Turkey in the 16th century.

10. Once every ten years, one of the largest horticultural events in the world takes place in Holland, Floriade. Luckily, the event will be taking place this year from April 5 to October 7 in Venlo.

For a more visual idea of Holland’s unique culture, check out the gallery below.

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VIDEO: Visit a guinea pig village in Holland

If you prefer cute and cuddly animals to the Big Five on safari, you may want to consider a trip to the Netherlands. VICE’s Cute Show takes a look this week at a guinea pig village in Holland, where the hairy rodents go to “retire” when their owners can no longer look after them. You can adopt a guinea pig or just visit them (I’m partial to the scrappy and long-haired Droopy).

The guinea pig village is located in Bakkeveen, about 2 hours northeast of Amsterdam. It’s open Wednesdays and Saturdays to the public, more info available here. Guinea pigs not your thing? Watch the Cute Show visit baby sloths in Costa Rica.

Opinion: Dutch khat ban smacks of racism

khat, qat
The Dutch government recently announced that it will ban the use of khat, a narcotic leaf widely chewed in the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

I’ve written about khat before. I’ve spent four months in Ethiopia, especially Harar, a city in the eastern part of the country where chewing khat (pronounced “chat” in the local languages) is part of many people’s daily lives. It’s a mild drug that makes most people more relaxed, mildly euphoric, and talkative. It also helps concentration and is popular among university students.

Of course there are side effects. Short-term effects include sleeplessness, constipation, and for some people a listlessness that keeps them from achieving their potential. Long-term use can lead to mental instability and heart trouble. I met one western researcher in Harar who had been there two years. He’d stopped using khat after the first few months because he was afraid of the long-term effects. If I lived in Harar that long I’d stop chewing khat for that very reason.

So the Dutch government seems to have a good reason to ban khat. Or does it? This is a country where marijuana, hash, herbal ecstasy, and psychedelic truffles are all legal. And if we’re talking about long-term health effects, we need to throw in alcohol and tobacco too.

So what’s different about khat? It’s almost exclusively used by the Dutch Somali community, numbering about 25,000 people. According to the BBC, “a Dutch government report cited noise, litter and the perceived public threat posed by men who chew khat as some of the reasons for outlawing the drug.”

Drunks aren’t noisy? Cigarette smokers never litter? The last reason is the most telling: “the perceived public threat posed by men who chew khat.” In other words, black men. In Europe, khat is a black drug, little understood and rarely used by the white population. This ignorance and the fear it generates are the real reasons khat is being banned.

While there are some valid health and social reasons for banning this narcotic plant, they also apply to the narcotic plants white people like to use. But we can’t expect white people in The Netherlands to give up those, can we?

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Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport gallery opens winter exhibition (about winter!)

Amsterdam
I love airport art galleries. They offer the delayed passenger something far more satisfying than eating fattening toxins in the food court. The gallery at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, is one of the best because it’s run by the world-famous Rijksmuseum.

The gallery has just opened Dutch Winters, a collection of winter scenes by Dutch artists. Interestingly, the curators didn’t go for the usual Dutch Masters and their depictions of the harsh winters of the 16th century, when Northern Europe shivered under the Mini Ice Age. Instead, they’re displaying works from the 19th century.

A January Evening in the Wood at The Hague, shown above, was painted by Louis Apol in 1875. A member of The Hague School, Apol made realistic images typical of that school’s style. Below is Charles Leickert’s Winter View, which he did in 1867. Leickert’s style harkens back to the Dutch masters with its rural scene, detailed architecture, and numerous lifelike figures.

Fans of the Dutch Masters of Holland’s Golden Age won’t be disappointed. The gallery has a permanent exhibit of some of their works.

Images courtesy Rijksmuseum.

Amsterdam