The Canals of Holland and Belgium

The Netherlands and neighboring Belgium are modern, vibrant examples of contrasting sights, smells and flavors, perfect for a summer holiday. An excellent way to visit this area is by cruising along the multitudes of canals upon which these countries are built. Similar to a river cruise along the Danube or the Rhine, travelling along these waterways is the best way to immerse yourself in the wonders of these countries with their combination of old and modern architecture, World Heritage sites and a population focused on progress and preservation.

Beginning in Amsterdam, I recommend spending a few days here for visits to some of the world’s greatest art museums, cafes and people watching. In a city with more bicycles than people, you will quickly learn to beware of the constant flow of bikes along the wide lanes and parkways crossing the city. Unlike cars, they are relatively silent and deceptively fast moving. Be sure to look both directions before you cross and keep an ear out for the tiny “ching” of the bell. A short canal cruise is the best way to see the city as a whole and walking or biking is the preferred mode of transportation. It is extremely accessible and easy to navigate.

From Amsterdam, you will travel to Utrecht, with a visit to Dom Square and the Dom Church with its beautiful inner garden. This is a great city for shopping, dining and walking. A trip to the top of the tower provides an outstanding view of the city and its canals. Something that is definitely worth a visit is the Museum Speelklok. Displayed here are street organs and many self-playing instruments and clocks dating back to the 16th century. This is a fun place for children and adults alike.

After a visit to the Medieval town of Veere, a lovely harbor and fishing town with a lovely main square punctuated by a 48 bell carillon, continue through the canals to Belgium. Stopping first in Ghent, the capital of East Flanders, you may choose to do a short walking tour of the city or you may prefer to spend the day in the beautiful medieval city of Bruges. I recommend this city for the day. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient European architecture. Its cathedral houses a rare Michelangelo sculpture of the Madonna and Child. The square and the buildings along the water front are great opportunities for photographic memories.

Brussels, the Belgian capital, is a lovely city with a picturesque square lined with gild houses and gothic cathedrals. Make sure to visit the Atomium, originally built for the 1958 World’s Fair as well as one of Belgium’s best known and well-loved symbols, the “Manneken Pis” statue. In keeping with the jovial nature of this little guy, he is frequently dressed in various costumes relating to the season or the celebrations in the city. Brussels is the administrative center of the EU and the home to many offices and organizations representing Europe. Brussels is a great place to visit the many chocolate purveyors and sample the famous flavors of Belgium, waffles, chocolate, croquettes, “frites” (It is the place where French fries originated.), and beer. Belgium has over 300 active breweries and is well known as one of the world’s best and most diverse beer producers. Make sure to sample some of the many beers and discover how each one must be served in its own branded and uniquely shaped glass!

Antwerp is a fascinating city known for its diamond houses dating back to the Middle Ages. This is the home of the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens and many of his works are displayed here. This is also the actual origin of the journey of the Pilgrims to America in 1620. The ship, the Speedwell, left to meet with the Mayflower in England to travel across the Atlantic. The Speedwell was found to be unseaworthy and had to remain while the Mayflower completed the journey. Steen Castle and Groenplaatz city square are fun places to spend an afternoon.

Back in the Netherlands for one more stop in the thoroughly modern city of Rotterdam. It was nearly totally destroyed in WWII and re-built, creating a wonderfully eclectic and dynamic city with a futuristic vibe. From the Mirrored Depot to the cute and tiny cube apartments, this city is thriving.

Travelling back to Amsterdam, it wouldn’t be a trip to Holland without visiting the Kinderdijk windmills. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the symbol of the Netherlands. There are over 1000 windmills in the Netherlands, many still in use. Here, there are 19 of them surrounding the canal where you can go by boat and go inside to discover the history of these amazing structures and how they operate.

I recommend spending another night or two in Amsterdam before your trip back home. It is a very comfortable and welcoming city. Just beware of the bikes!

Amsterdam

Kinderkijk Windmills


Bruges

Bruges


Michelangelo's Madonna of Bruges


Grand Palace Brussels


Atomium Brussels


Manneken Pis (Dressed for Festival)


Beer Capital of the World...Each with its own special glass!


Legendary Chocolate


Antwerp


Church of Our Lady-Bruges


Mirrored Depot-Rotterdam


Tiny Cube Apartments-Rotterdam