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.
Today’s Photo of the Day is from a chess game in Amsterdam at Max Euwe Plein (square). Named for a Dutch chess champion, there’s also a museum on site dedicated to the game and player where you can play against a computer, but the outdoor board looks more interesting. Photographer Kumukulanui notes that the man was primarily studying his opponent rather than the game, to better anticipate the next move and his serious expression gives an interesting depth to the portrait. What should be his next move?
Forget flying around Europe. At 30,000 feet it’s impossible to truly experience the continent’s remarkable landscapes. Rather than being shuttled around in a plane that only allows a birds-eye view, train trips immerse travelers in the terrain. There’s a reason why trains are often thought of as the most romantic mode of transportation: riding the rails makes you feel more connected and in tune than air travel ever could. Instead of feeling like a chore, as flying often does, train travel can be an experience in itself. In fact, there are plenty of scenic train rides in Europe that are worth the trip just for the view. The following are top rated train trips, and from the rolling hills of England to the craggy Alps of Switzerland, each one offers travelers something different.
6. United Kingdom London to Edinburgh
The rolling, green hills and moors that are often associated with Yorkshire make this one of the most scenic train trips in Europe. When entering the northern parts of England, travelers will catch glimpses of the rugged coastline along the North Sea. During the 4 1/2-hour train ride, English speakers will notice a distinct difference in passenger accents as the train gets closer to Scotland. Although the common language is English, it can be hard to decipher as the Scottish brogue gets thicker and thicker.
5. Holland Amsterdam to Groningen (best in April)
In Holland, the most scenic train trip isn’t necessarily about being on the right track; it’s actually all about timing. Travelers will want to hop onboard in spring – particularly in April – to see the blanket of colors that results when the famous Dutch tulips are in full bloom. On the two-hour route between Amsterdam and Groningen, travelers will also be able to spot plenty of windmills, another quintessential part of the Dutch landscape.
4. Italy Rome to Verona to Venice
Train trips don’t get much more romantic than the ride from Rome to Venice, especially if you make a stopover in Verona. The train ride starts in Rome, the enchanting “Eternal City,” and then makes its way through the Tuscan farmlands to Verona, a pleasant city famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Make a day of wandering around the city’s lovely corridors (pictured above) and passing some time in a local cafe or bar. Then head to Venice, Italy’s famed “Floating City,” that is by far one of the most romantic destinations in the world. The train approaches through Venice’s lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, and upon arrival you can hop on a gondola ride for two – what could be more romantic than that? Another scenic train trip in Italy is the route from Venice to Trieste. On this trip, the train hugs the coast of the Adriatic Sea until reaching Trieste, a charming destination with beautiful sea views and several cafes and pubs for you to spend your days and nights in.
Balconies in Verona, Italy [Photo by Libby Zay]
3. France Montpellier to Nice
The train ride through southern France from Montpellier to Nice is another visually stunning trip. From Montpellier to Marseille, travelers will see the typical Provençal landscape of red-colored soil, tall cypress trees and expansive fields of lavender and olives. As the train gets closer to Nice, the coastal scenery along the Mediterranean Sea comes in to view. Note that if you have a France Rail Pass, it’s possible to break the ride up to spend some time exploring small Provençal towns, such as Aix-en-Provence, the famous home of Paul Cézanne, or Nimes, with its stunning Roman amphitheater that is second only to Rome’s Colosseum.
Black Forest Railway
The Roman’s gave this thickly wooded and mountainous region in Germany the name Silva Nigra (i.e. “Black Forest“) because the dense growth of trees blocked out most of the light inside the forest. Experience the spectacular scenery on the Black Forest Railway, part of the German National Railway that connects Offenburg and Singen. The 93-mile-long route ascends (or descends, depending on which way you travel) more than 2,000 feet as it passes through 39 tunnels and over two viaducts. The section between Hornberg, Triberg, and St. Georgen is particularly pretty. The stretch is also popular with locals, who use it as part of their regular commute between the towns they live in and larger cities. Tourists, however, will probably think it looks straight out of a storybook – so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Black Forest is the setting for the Brothers Grimm tale “Hansel and Gretel.” But don’t worry, you won’t need to follow a trail of breadcrumbs to get back home.
Look closely for one of the viaducts trains along the Black Forest Railway pass over in Hornberg [Wikimedia photo by Prolineserver]
1. Switzerland Wilhelm Tell Express (May to October only)
Switzerland is known for some of the most stunning scenery in all of Europe. This trip from Lucerne to Locarno connects two of the prettiest parts of the country, central Switzerland and the Italian-speaking Ticino region. While in Lucerne, travelers can opt to take a boat ride on a vintage paddle steamer where they can enjoy lunch or dinner. When the boat reaches Flüelen, step onto a panoramic train that will whisk you past lone cottages on pine-covered hills, glistening streams, cerulean lakes, vast valleys covered in green, and craggy, snow-covered peaks, as it makes its way to Ticino. If you get a chance, make a stop in the tiny town of Bellinzona, an easily walk-able place that is well worth a day trip in order to explore one of their three medieval castles. Switzerland has some of the most fantastic scenic train trips in Europe with the Golden Pass and Glacier-Express also offering awe-inspiring views through panoramic train windows.
Cape Town might be the world’s most visually striking city, between its dramatic coastal setting perched precariously against the looming Table Mountain and the town’s riotous collision of Europe and Africa, and from textiles to colonial Dutch architecture. Perhaps no Cape Town neighborhood better represents the sensory feast that is Cape Town than the Bo-Kaap, a wildly colorful enclave of brightly painted houses long home to the city’s unique population of Cape Malay residents.
Bo-Kaap got its start in the late 16th century, as Cape Town rose to prominence as a key stopover for merchant ships traveling between Europe and Asia. The largely Dutch traders who controlled Cape Town introduced Indonesian slaves (now known as Cape Malays) to the city, who then brought along their Islamic culture and cuisine. Bo-Kaap became home to the city’s Cape Malay community, weaving its way through a patchwork of brightly painted houses, historic mosques, spice shops and cobblestone streets.
Though the Bo-Kaap is quickly gentrifying, the neighborhood remains a fascinating sensory feast for an afternoon stroll. Turquoise and bright green houses compete for your eye’s attention with nearby Table Mountain, as a thick blanket of clouds gently rolls across its summit. Nearby a group of worshippers kneels outside one of Bo-Kaap’s mosques, their chanting wafting its way to your ears. On the next corner, a market stocks halal meats and fresh-made Koeksisters, a sweet South African donut.
Begin your own exploration of the Bo-Kaap signs and sights of the neighborhood in the Gadling gallery below!
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.