Travels & Traditions: Tulip Time Cruise - #901

BURT WOLF: For thousands of years the best way to get around Europe was on a river boat. The rivers were the great highways that moved people and goods. They were also the natural boundaries between cultures. As a result many of the great cities of Europe were built on the banks of rivers.

During the last few years cruising the rivers of Europe has become a major attraction for tourists. And for good reason --- the ship is your hotel and it takes you peacefully from city to city. Often you’ll dock in the oldest and most beautiful parts of a town. And one thing that is particularly dear to my heart --you only unpack once.

This cruise is called Tulip Time. It starts in Amsterdam, which is filled with art, architecture and places to shop. Next, Dordrecht to discover how windmills really work. Then Antwerp, which is the world epicenter for diamonds and Brussels for food, beer, lace, beer, unusual statues and beer. Ghent for its outstanding architecture and Bruges where the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


BURT WOLF: Towards the end of the 1100s, a group of herring fisherman decided to build a settlement at the mouth of the Amstel River. They drove wooden stakes into the mud, mounded some wet earth and seaweed around the stakes and patched together a few huts on top of the mounds. Nothing to brag about, but still something they could call home. There was, however, one serious problem -- at high tide, home was about three feet underwater.

So they built a dam to hold back the sea and the people called the place the dam on the Amstel. The dam worked and there was much rejoicing.

Today that same spot is Amsterdam’s town square and there is still much rejoicing.

The best way to get a quick look at why they are rejoicing is to take a canal tour. The canals were built by the city government during the 1600s. Each canal had four lanes of traffic. A ship could tie up in front of a warehouse, unload its cargo and not interfere with the ongoing traffic in the center lanes. Double parking was a capital crime. The three main canals could handle 4,000 ships at a time.

Real estate has always been tight in Amsterdam. As a result some people began living on canal boats. Eventually these floating apartments became some of the most desirable locations in the city. Captain Vincent is the curator of The Houseboat Museum and offers visitors a tour of life on a canal boat.



BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Thank you very much.

CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: Just come inside and I show you my boat.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I’m right behind you.

CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: Welcome onboard, be careful with the steps.


CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: This is the kitchen.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Pretty big kitchen.

CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: Yeah, this is the living room, as you can see a lot of people think it’s quite small in a houseboat but it can be even bigger than some small apartments in Amsterdam. This is a model of ships like these which were converted into houseboats, they were former freighters, this one was built in 1914 and the deck house, the whole family lived in, four people or maybe ten square meters, so it’s quite small, and they could transport goods by opening these covers, coal and other grain and things like that could come in. This is the sitting room with nice chairs, enough height to stand, some old pictures of Amsterdam. For example this is a nice picture because you can see these ships which were transformed into house boats were freighters, you can see people loading stuff on the ships and transporting all over the Netherlands.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And you’re connected to electricity

CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: Yeah, water; telephone, so it’s quite comfortable to live on a house boat in Amsterdam.

BURT WOLF: The net result of all these canals is a city built on 90 islands and connected by 500 bridges. Laws controlled the size of the houses that faced the canals, the bricks that could be used and what architectural embellishments were allowed. These buildings were constructed during the late 1500s and early 1600s. At the time, Amsterdam was the commercial and financial center of Europe and much of its wealth was created by the Dutch East India Company which controlled the spice trade with the islands of the South Pacific.

This was the business that Columbus was looking for when he bumped into the Bahamas. The Dutch East India Company was making big bucks. It was also one of the first companies to have a pubic offering of its stock. Investors could buy shares and share in the riches. This was Amsterdam’s Golden Age and much of that gold went into buying works of art.

As a result, Amsterdam has a half-dozen of the world’s great museums.

The Van Gogh Museum houses more Van Gogh paintings and drawings than any other museum in the world.

The Rijksmuseum is the official state museum and has the greatest collection of Dutch masters. They have Rembrandt’s Night Watch and the Jewish Bride. They have Vermeer’s Milkmaid and the Love Letters and Franz Hals Portrait of a Young Couple. They also have an awesome collection of Delftware porcelain and one of Europe’s largest collections of prints and drawings.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For thousands of years, if you had big money you wanted to use some of that money to commission a work of art. Money could be in the hands of a rich family like the de Medicis of Italy or a King like Louis XVI of France or the Catholic Church. They liked mythological themes and religious elements. But here in Amsterdam the money was in the middle class.

BURT WOLF: Pictures from everyday life were in and everything had to look real---your uncle Franz --- the guys in your drinking club --- landscapes--- and seascapes.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Unfortunately, Amsterdam’s golden age was short lived. During the second half of the 1600s everybody ganged up on the Dutch. The English started a series of wars that took away their holdings in the East Indies and the Portuguese attacked and took away most of their holdings in Brazil. Even New Amsterdam became New York.

BURT WOLF: But much of what was created during Amsterdam’s Golden Age is still around and easily available to visitors and that is particularly true when it comes to eating and drinking.

Amsterdam has a unique type of establishment called a “tasting house” where you can taste the different liquors produced by a specific manufacturers. In this case the Van Wees Company. Their tasting house is called The Admiral it and offers 17 types of Geneva which is a kind of Gin. They also offer an assortment of special liqueurs with unusual flavors like cinnamon and ginger.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Here’s to the Dutch.

BURT WOLF: Pancakes are also a tradition in Amsterdam and a shop called Pancakes! is the place to try them. They have pancakes with ham. Pancakes with bacon and cheese and pancakes with raspberry sauce.

You’ll also see people eating raw herring. They buy one from a street vendor who serves it on a paper plate with a garnish of chopped onion. Correct form requires that you tilt your head back, hold the herring above you, slowly lower it into your mouth and bite off a piece. This is definitely an acquired taste, and an acquired skill.

If you’re interested in the traditional foods of Amsterdam but the flight of the raw herring is not your thing, may I suggest a visit to Haesje Claes. You can taste hotchpotch, which is a dish of meats, mashed potatoes, onions and carrots. Another favorite is red beans with potatoes and piccalilli. They also have an excellent Dutch pea soup.


BURT WOLF: Following our free time in Amsterdam, Avalon’s crew welcomed us onboard.

AVALON CREW ON CAMERA: Afternoon sir, welcome onboard.

Cheers enjoy the first evening on board. Cheers to everybody. Salute.

BURT WOLF: Andrezj Sanakiewicz was our Cruise Director.

ANDREZJ SANAKIEWICZ ON CAMERA: What’s special about cruising on the Artistry is very nice intimate atmosphere and a very dedicated crew. There is a ratio of about three and a half passengers for one crew member. We are very proud of our staterooms because they are the most special on the European Rivers, all the staterooms are equipped with minibar and a dryer, bathrobe and TV, ninety percent of all our staterooms have sliding glass doors, French balconies, we have of course, a special restaurant as well, for breakfast they have hot stations with omelets and eggs on request, they have all kinds of cold cuts, bagels and cream cheese, we have fresh fruits and a big selection of cereals. We try always to introduce some of the local products like cheese. We have a very special lounge which is a place for all kinds of social gatherings and lectures and we have a musician for evening entertainment. In addition a beautiful sky deck where passengers can enjoy the countryside passing by.


BURT WOLF: During our first morning on the river we docked in Schoonhoven.

All of Schoonhoven fits into three square miles and has a medieval feeling.

Little canals lined with row houses.

Narrow bridges crossing over the canals.

And ancient streets lined with jewelry shops and silver galleries.

For the past 700 years, Schoonhoven has been a center for the design and production of silver jewelry. During the 1300s Schoonhoven was the most important royal court in the Netherlands. Silversmiths came to the area to make things for the royal family. When the royal family began losing power and money during the 1400s the silver artists stayed on and sold their work to anyone who could afford it. And the number of people who could afford it was quickly increasing because of international trade. 

One of the most interesting workshops is the one in the old water tower which shows works by local and international silversmiths. These are active workshops where you can watch artisans shape their designs.

Paul de Vries is an artist who works in silver.

PAUL de VRIES ON CAMERA: I’ve been working for 25 years now and I still like it even better than gold. I find it very special. And you can make any shape of it. It’s very malleable and still it’s very strong.

BURT WOLF: In addition to silver jewelry, Schoonhoven is famous for Kok’s Bakery.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And Kok’s is famous for its Fonteyn Koek, which is made of gingerbread and honey and sugar and dried subtropical fruits. Ah, but I bet you knew that already.

They also make waffle-like wafer cookies that are held together by a layer of caramel syrup.


BURT WOLF: That afternoon we stopped in Dordrecht where we caught a bus to Kinderdijk and learned about windmills.

Kinderdijk means children’s dike and refers to a great flood on St. Elisabeth’s Day in 1421, when a crib with a crying baby was washed up on this dike. There are nineteen windmills in the area and until 1950 they were used to drain water from the land which is below sea level.

There are two major types of windmills. Polder mills and industrial mills. Polder mills are used to drain the land that was and still is below sea level. 

Industrial mills are used for a number of traditional purposes like milling wheat, extracting oil and sawing wood.

The earliest windmills built in the Netherlands date back to the 1200s and may have been inspired by the wind powered grain mills of Persia. The Low Countries of Europe have very few rivers that can power mills so the windmill became the most important source of energy. 

They were also used to send messages.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: When the blades are in this position it means that the miller is on a short break.

When they are like that, he’s on a longer break.

When they are in this position it’s called the mourning position, something sad has happened, the market has gone down another 200 points.

This is the celebration position. That means there has been a birth or a wedding in the miller’s family or the government has decided to put a permanent end to earmarked legislation.

During the Second World War, windmills were used to send secret signals to the allied forces.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we arrived in Antwerp which is the center of the diamond trade.

More than seventy percent of the world’s annual diamond business, worth over 15 billion dollars, takes place in Antwerp. Its home to two thousand diamond companies, employing over thirty thousand people. 

Diamonds were first mined in India and until the 1700s India was their only source. They are the hardest naturally occurring substance and when properly cut they have the ability to separate white light into the colors of the spectrum which gives a diamond its extraordinary brilliance.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The weight of a diamond is measured in carats --- a food reference but probably not the one you are thinking about. The word ‘carat” when it’s used with diamonds is a reference to the carob bean. It’s based on an old Greek word and strangely enough carob beans have a uniform weight so they were used in Ancient times to measure the weight of precious stones and diamonds.


BURT WOLF: About mid-day we headed for Brussels.

Brussels got started as a fortified castle on a small island in a River. The island was important because it was the crossing point for two trade routes. The local Dukes saw it as a good spot to make a few bucks and set up a protected market around the fort. By the 12th century Brussels was a major commercial center producing luxury goods that were exported throughout Europe.

The most famous symbol of Brussels is the Manneken Pis --- a bronze fountain in the form of a naked boy. It was constructed in the early 1600s and there are a number of stories about its meaning. But all the stories make the same point; the people of Brussels are courageous, have stood up to opposition, and the statue expresses their attitude towards anyone who tries to oppress them.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In 1746, during a visit by the King of France to Belgium, a group of French soldiers stole this statue. The King was so annoyed and embarrassed that he had the soldiers thrown in prison and held there until the statue was returned. And then he passed a law that said that every French soldier who ever passed this statue had to salute.

BURT WOLF: The King also gave the statue a uniform of gold brocade. The idea of putting different uniforms on the statue for different occasions caught on. Today there is a museum with over six hundred costumes. Dracula --- Mozart --- and my personal favorite --- Elvis.

Brussels is a great town for food. Its quintessential dish is steamed mussels in an herb broth with a side of French fried potatoes and a beer. The shell of the first mussel is used to scoop out the meat on the other side. The French fries, which should really be called Belgian fries, because the Belgians fried them first, are dipped into mayonnaise.

And there’s a beer that is called gueuze. It’s often described as Belgian Champagne. It’s made from lambic beer which is itself rather special. Most brewers add commercial yeast to their beer, lambic brewers count on the yeasts that are floating wild in the air around Brussels. The process produces a dry and cider-like drink. Sometimes, one–year-old lambic is mixed with longer aged lambic and bottled for a second fermentation. The result is Gueuze.

If you are serious about beer you might want to stop in to one of the many beer shops. Belgium produces 400 artisanal beers and some excellent mass-produced stuff.

And you wouldn’t want to forget about Belgian chocolates. Many of the big Belgian chocolate makers have retail outlets around the world and there’s little point in tasting what you can get back home. You want to go where the locals go and for many Belgians that’s Wittamer. In addition to its chocolate counter it has a beautiful café that serves a selection of macaroons, pastries and ice creams. I’ve been a fan of Wittamer’s work for the last thirty years.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And I’ve been buying my cookies at a shop called Dandoy for just as long.

Every year on December 6th, which is St. Nicholas’ Day, children all over Northern Europe receive a cookie called a speculoos. It’s from a Latin word that means “mirror”. Let me show you why.

BURT WOLF: It’s a reference to the fact that the cookie is made in a hand carved wooden mold that produces a mirror image of St. Nicholas.

Their old molds go back for hundreds of years and represent many other images besides St. Nick --- and some of them are over three feet tall.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we arrived in Ghent. Ghent is one of the oldest cities in Belgium and during the 1200s it was second only to Paris as a focal point for commerce and culture. It had a monopoly on the English wool trade which made it the center for European textiles. It also made it rich and powerful enough to be an almost totally independent city for hundreds of years.

Fortunately, Ghent has been able to maintain much of its architectural and cultural past.

It still has its 14th century belfry with a 52-bell carillon which was originally built to show off the town’s independence.

The feudal castle of the Counts of Flanders that was built to intimidate their rivals.

The 7th century Abbey of St. Bavo with its Lapidary Museum. Lapidary is a reference to the art of cutting and polishing stones. The museum has a collection of stone fragments collected from various demolished buildings and monuments. There is also a collection of tombstones that date from the 13th to the 19th century. It appears that from time to time certain abbeys, monasteries and churches decided to sell off their old tombstones to make way for new tombstones.

And there’s an unusual type of retreat that was popular in the 1200s, called a Beguinages. They were developed for unmarried women and widows who were unable to pay the convent dowry that was required to enter an official nunnery. It was a place where women could live in their own society, insulated from a troubled world, and use their individual skills to develop a collective environment. The Beguinages were financed by wealthy patrons and are unique to Belgium and the Netherlands.


BURT WOLF: Ghent also has a famous shop devoted to Mustard. Catherine Caesens is the owner.

CATHERINE CAESENS ON CAMERA: The firm has been founded in 1790 and has always been around here in the area. The shop moved into this building in 1860. The mustard is made with mustard seeds, vinegar and very, very little salt. I don’t use any preservatives, no additives at all, no starches, no colorings, so it’s quite a natural product. I’ll give you some of the mustard to try here from the vat. Be careful it’s quite hot. And this is where we sell our mustard from as well.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Oh, it’s very nice.


BURT WOLF: That afternoon we took a tour of Bruges. During the 1200s Bruges was a major port and home to the Dukes of Burgundy. The Dukes were as powerful as the King of France. But by the 1400s, the waterway silted up and Bruges went into an extended period of economic decline.

The fact that Bruges was pretty much broke for 500 years was bad for citizens but good for its architectural heritage. No one had enough money to update their buildings and so they remained pretty much intact. As a result Bruges is one of the most beautiful cities in Northern Europe and the historic center of the town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town hall dates to 1376 and it is the oldest town hall in Belgium. 

Avalon’s Tulip Time Cruise was a great experience and I hope to tip-toe through the tulips again.

For Travels and Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Holland - #806

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The two most powerful forces in the history of Holland are wind and water. For over a thousand years, the people living in this part of the world have had an amazing ability to take advantage of these two forces. Perhaps the most obvious example is the windmill.

BURT WOLF: The Dutch used windmills to turn the pumps that drew the water off the land, over the dikes, and back to the sea. Much of Holland’s actual land surface was created by windpower moving water. The farmland that evolved from this system formed the basis for Holland's extensive agriculture and dairy industries. It was also windpower that moved the Dutch ships across the surface of the seas during the 1600's and made Holland the most powerful trading nation of the time, and the absolute center of commerce and culture. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the early 1600's there was an extraordinary expansion in worldwide trade. In Europe just about everybody who had a boat wanted to push off for some distant port in the hope of buying something there and bringing it back home and selling it for big bucks. For the Dutch, it created a giant worldwide trading empire -- and back home in Holland, an enormous amount of money. A lot of that money was used to commission works of art. Art that the Dutch appreciated in terms of aesthetics, but that they also considered to be a great commercial investment -- and boy, were they right.

BURT WOLF: Holland's golden age of the 1600's was the time of Rembrandt -- not a bad investment -- and Van Dyke, Franz Hals and Vermeer. These works can give us a detailed picture of what Dutch life was like at the time, especially when it comes to food. The Dutch masters have left us a picture of the period's menu: cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, fish, beer. The same foods and drinks that make up the traditional meals of today's Dutch family. Very often the way a food was shown was meant to tell a story. The Merry Family by Jan Steen looks like a great Sunday afternoon lunch with the kids -- but when you look at it closely you see that the children are following the bad habits of their parents: drinking, smoking, overeating. The painting is actually a warning against weak morals, a seventeenth- century cry for improved family values. The Dutch love of art has continued, and so has their ability to produce some of the world's finest painters. 

Vincent Van Gogh was born in Holland in 1853 and died in 1890. Almost all of his paintings were made during the 1880's, and though he was able to sell only a few of his works during his lifetime, his paintings have become some of the most valuable. In 1990 a Van Gogh sold for more than eighty million dollars. In the center of Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum, built to make his works available to the public. Over one hundred Van Gogh works are on continual exhibition. 

Food has always been an important subject for Dutch painters and Van Gogh was no exception. This still life of apples and pears was a color study that produced a completely yellow picture. He also presented people eating and drinking in cafes and one of his favorite works was The Potato Eaters.

LOUIS VAN TILBORGH ONCAMERA: He...he tried to do something with the light which is...very difficult. I mean he... from the beginning...

BURT WOLF: Louis VanTilburg is the curator of the museum's Van Gogh collection.

VAN TILBORGH ON CAMERA: The Potato Eaters is an important painting because it's actually the first mature painting that Van Gogh really made. Before that time, that means from l880 until '80...'85... he made more or less studies. He didn't make... pictures which he thought were good enough for the market... for the art market. He was just learning the trade more or less, and with The Potato Eaters he first thought that he could launch own career... artistically and commercially. He thought that he could send it an exhibition in Paris and could present himself with that picture to... art dealers.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It doesn't have any of the bright colors that so many of us expect in a Van Gogh.

VAN TILBORGH ON CAMERA: He... always like to exaggerate. He did that in France and he also did that in Holland and in Holland at that time... gay colors were not in fashion but dark colors were, that he exaggerated. I mean if you would compare his pictures to the pictures of his... of his colleagues at the time... his... his pictures are much more...darker ...even...even more to say black.

This pic... picture... if you very... look very carefully at the... the hands... the way it is constructed it's very... I mean the people are sitting there... cramped. They're not looking at each other. For instance, the lady on the right has to pour coffee. Someone has to... take a fork and take in the potato. It's all very clear... very defined but as a total... it's not sensible at all because there is talk at a table. They interact and they do that... don't do that in that picture and... I think he himself was aware of the fact that he did not succeed in that, because he never made a picture like this any more... five persons around the table that... was too... too difficult for him.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The fact that they were using potatoes to make an entire meal is an interesting reminder of how important the potato was to the European peasant farmer. During the seventeen and eighteen hundreds it was very often the only food they had, and because of its high nutritional content, was actually enough to keep them alive. For Van Gogh, the peasant and the potato were examples of a purer and simpler lifestyle, but in the case of the potato that's only true if you leave off the sour cream.


BURT WOLF: About an hour's drive into the Dutch countryside from Amsterdam is the small village of Zundert. And this is the building that put Zundert on the map.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Zundert is where Vincent Van Gogh grew up and did his early work. They even have a small museum dedicated to him. 

BURT WOLF: The museum has a small collection of things that relate to the period when Van Gogh lived in Zundert, as well as his other years in Holland. Van Gogh made a number of drawings that showed the landscape and the people of the village. He was fascinated by the life of the peasant farmers who worked the land, and there are many drawings that show them at work in the fields and in their homes.

Certainly a fitting tribute, but the sweetest tribute of all is just down the street at the Luijckx Chocolate Factory. Almost every morning you will find the shiny steel tank-truck outside the building, a tank-truck filled with twenty thousand gallons of the finest chocolate. Chocolate that goes into the building to be molded. The free-flowing chocolate is poured into molds moving along a track. They're shaken to take out any air bubbles, then flipped so the form has only a thin coating. It's turned again and weighed to make sure it holds the proper amount. The chocolate cools and hardens to become little cups but the Luijckx system can form just about anything. A substantial part of their business comes from producing special designs, things for Christmas, Easter, McChocolates, and the local specialty -- a reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh's self-portrait in chocolate.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: This is great stuff. It nourishes the mind and the body at the same time and it does it either in milk or semi-sweet chocolate. How few works of art can make that claim?


BURT WOLF: Holland's mild climate, high quality marshy soil, and regular rainfall promote the year-round growth of excellent grass, grass which in turn produces excellent cattle, cattle that have been used to produce milk for at least four thousand years and cheese for a least a thousand. The country's natural waterways play a big part in the development of the cheese business. Almost every farmer had a waterway touching some point on his land. When his cheese was made, he would load it onto a barge and sail off to market. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It could have been a small town just down the canal from his farm or he could join up with a major river like the Rhine and end up selling his cheese in France or Germany. Because the Dutch sailors were such good navigators, they were able to develop a coastal trade and end up selling their cheeses as far south as Portugal and Spain. At one point in time, cheese became so valuable that it was used a form of money -- but it was very difficult to keep any small change in your pocket.

BURT WOLF: Over the years the technology of cheese making has changed some, but the story is pretty much the same. Today Holland is the world's largest exporter of cheese. It ships out many millions of pounds of cheese each year. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So if you want to get an accurate picture of the history of the Dutch, just say cheese.

BURT WOLF: The Denboer family farm has been here in Holland for at least three hundred years. The land was reclaimed from the sea and a giant dike stands behind the farmhouse, just in case the sea ever tries to get back in. The Denboers raise their own cows and use the milk to produce cheese in the most traditional of Dutch farmhouse methods. The milk goes into a large tub. An enzyme from the lining of a calf's stomach, called rennet, is added to the milk. The rennet causes the milk solids, called the curd, to separate from the liquid, called the whey. The milk solids are taken out and placed into a form. Pressure is added to squeeze out additional liquid and give the cheese its shape. At that point the cheese is submerged into a brine bath, really just salted water but it adds flavor to the cheese, when the cheese comes out of the bath it sits on the shelf to mature for two weeks. At that point the cheese is ready to go to market. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Cheese is just an ancient method for preserving the valuable nutrients in milk. All of the calcium and protein that's in the milk is now in the cheese but it's in there in a concentrated form. It takes about ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese, and in moderation, cheese is an excellent source of nutrients.

BURT WOLF: It's pronounced "houda" in Dutch and Gouda in English. It's the name of the most famous cheese produced in Holland, and it's also the name of the town where the cheese was originally developed. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Starting in the 1200s, if you lived in a Dutch town, you wanted that town to have weighing rights; that is, the right to weigh the cheeses made by the local farmers and put the town's official seal of approval on those cheese. It was the equivalent of today having a major league football franchise. Big deal stuff. 

BURT WOLF: And as soon as your town got weighing rights, it got a weigh house in which the activity was conducted, like building your own stadium. Gouda got theirs in 1668. It's right across the street from the city hall, which just serves to point out the importance of the cheese business to the town fathers. Most of the cheese exported from Holland is named after the towns from which it comes. Edam: skimmed milk, mild flavors, smooth texture, easy to spot because it usually comes in a red ball. Masdam: it's Holland's answer to Swiss cheese with a mild, nutty flavor. And of course gouda: starts mild and creamy but becomes more robust the longer it's aged. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So check the cheese to make sure it has the town seal on it. That's the only way to be sure it's gouda enough.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Some time during the 1100s, a group of herring fishermen settled near here along the Amstel River. That community eventually became the city of Amsterdam. So I think it's only fair to say that from the very beginning, the story of Amsterdam has been the story of something good to eat. 

BURT WOLF: But the real golden age of Amsterdam was the 1600s. Amsterdam was Europe's center for business as well as its cultural capital. It all started in 1595 when a Dutch trading ship landed in what was then called the East Indies now Indonesia: Bali, Java, Borneo, Sumatra; lands which produced some of the world's most valuable spices.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Those were the places that Columbus had been looking for, and when the Dutch got there they took control of a spice trade to Europe that made many Dutchman wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Actually, those dreams weren't very wild at all, because even then the Dutch were very structured and not showy. Much of the wealth from that spice trade was used to build homes along the canals of Amsterdam.

BURT WOLF: Amsterdam was actually put together by connecting ninety islands with about five hundred bridges --- most citizens get around on bicycles. The town has only seven hundred and fifty thousand people but a million bikes. You could, if you want to, get from place to place just as well by boat.

Thomas Schmidt is the executive assistant manager of Amsterdam's Amstel Hotel. He borrowed one of the hotel's boats so we could take a tour of the city... a tour with two objectives: first, to see the traditional sights, and second, to stop along the way and eat the traditional foods.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: And here you have a very typical bridge...which is still operating. If a boat passes through here, there are two bridge guards who will open up the bridge to you; every time you pass a bridge and he takes a bicycle and drives along the channel, opens the bridge and then he goes to the next.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Bicycle goes along with the boat.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And opens it up for you. That's really great.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: But most of the time the bicycle is faster than the boat, so that's no problem.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CMAERA: Here we're going into the typically Dutch channel. What you see on the right hand side, left hand side, houseboats.

BURT WOLF CAMERA: People live on

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: People live on them, yes, that's right.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It looks like it's a nice place to live.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: It is. It is actually. You see even the people create their own garden and terrace and they're trying to... to feel at home here you know. And there's another thing you probably have noticed, the... hook hanging on each house. This is meant to... bring up the corniches, and if you move from one to the other house, you bring it up from the outside, through the window.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Oh that's right. The stairs are so narrow in these houses that you can't bring a bed or a piano upstairs, and even today they use that hook on the top of the house to bring their furniture in when they move.



THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: That's right. You see also different type of the decorations. This one is... more of the very heavy decorated and they have some more simple as well. People showed the...their richness on the outside of the... house by building a gable which is more decorated or less decorated, and there's not much space in the small houses to show your decoration of your richness so the gable was a nice place to do that.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The ornateness of the crown.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: That's right. That's right.

BURT WOLF: One of the great pleasures of a canal tour of Amsterdam is that you can tie up, go ashore and see what's cooking in the streets. 

Each city around the world has its own customary street foods, and eating them as you move around the town has become almost a ritual for the citizens. In Amsterdam there are a group of very traditional street foods. Maybe it's because Amsterdam was originally founded some seven hundred years ago by herring fisherman or maybe it's just because the Dutch love herring. I don't know, but I do know that Amsterdam has dozens of small street stands where people eat herring. The fish is very fresh, lightly salted, cleaned and served on a paper plate with some chopped onion. The herring is held in the air above your head and eaten bite by bite. There are also street vendors for french fried potatoes, freshly cut and deep fried right in front of you. They're served with mayonnaise, a peanut sauce or ketchup. The third classic street food of Amsterdam is the waffle. They're freshly made by vendors who set up their stoves in the town's open markets. They're thin and crisp. Two waffles are put together like a sandwich and the filling; it's made up of a maple-based sugar syrup. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And licorice, an anise-flavored candy that they make both sweet and salty. So those are the street foods of Amsterdam: licorice, herring, french fries and little waffles. What an unbeatable meal.

BURT WOLF: As you move through the streets of Amsterdam you will see at regular intervals the “Brown Cafes.” There are five hundred of them in the downtown area.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The Brown Cafe is to Amsterdam very much what the pub is to London: a neighborhood gathering spot, an extension of the living room, a place to come in and have a beer or a coffee, to read a book or a newspaper.

BURT WOLF: They're called Brown Cafes because the wood used in their construction is always dark because the lighting level is kept low, and because the walls which have been stained with smoke and nicotine are never washed or painted.

This is probably the most famous of the brown cafes. It's Cafe Hoppe and it first opened for business in 1670. The Brown Cafes are an essential part of each of Amsterdam's neighborhoods and very often attract a particular clientele. One might be the place for writers to meet, another frequented by painters.  They're a real reflection of the neighborhood and a great place to get to know the people of the city.


BURT WOLF: The city plan of Amsterdam is based on three canals that form three semi-circles, one inside the other. Together they are described as the Canal Girdle. The outside canal in English is called the Prince's Canal. In the middle is the Emperor's Canal, and on the inside, the Gentleman's Canal. It's interesting that the most elegant and ambitious of the three is the Gentleman's Canal, not those named with royal titles.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:  It's a reminder that for centuries the people of Amsterdam have loved the small businessman, the individual entrepreneur, and like most people, the owner of a small business tries to keep his taxes as low as he honestly can -- or at least to get the most for his money.

BURT WOLF: During the 1700's the people here paid their homeowner's tax based on the width of the front of But those same houses go up and they go back, and as they go back they get wider. A pie-shaped house with the thinnest part facing the street helped to cut down on your taxes and let you keep a bigger slice of your own economic pie. That's the Trippenhuis, built in 1662. It's like a Venetian palace. Across the street is the narrowest house in Amsterdam. The story goes that the Tripp family coachman was expressing his wish for a home on the canal, even if it was only as wide as the door of his master's house. Mr. Tripp overheard him and built him just that: a house as wide as the Tripp door. The extraordinary architecture of Amsterdam is one of its greatest joys. The government has designated some seven thousand buildings in the old center as historically significant. The character of these streets tells the history of the city for almost eight centuries. The people of Amsterdam have done a pretty good job of preserving their heritage. Holding onto the old buildings was essential.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And they've built museums for just about everything Dutch that you can think of. They're also doing a good job of holding onto their gastronomic heritage. There are chefs all over this town who are researching old recipes, reproducing them and making the gastronomic past part of the present. 

BURT WOLF: DePoort Restaurant, at the center of the town's oldest area, started as a beer brewery in 1592. It was the place where Heineken was first made. Today the restaurant offers some of the most traditional home foods of Holland: Dutch pea soup, a meal in itself with pieces of pork and slices of sausage; herring in various forms; hotspot, which is a combination of mashed potatoes, sauteed onions and carrots. Made me go out and get a pair of wooden shoes; a wonderful Dutch dish. And giant pancakes served with apples or preserves. These are the real Dutch treats. 


BURT WOLF: One of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam is the old Heineken Brewery. The original facility was called the Haystack Brewery and it started its production in 1572. In 1863 it was taken over by Gerhart Heineken, who at the ripe old age of twenty-two decided he could make a better beer. Today the original plant is a museum devoted to the history of beer. They have an interesting collection of art and artifacts that tell the history of beer making. It starts with material from ancient Mesopotamia and takes you right through some of the major European painters. They also have an extensive collection of beer drinking vessels, including this unusual number: Her Royal Majesty holds a bowl above her head from which you drink an aquavit or vodka. Then she flips over and her base fills with beer.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The main reason that beer has been so popular in so many parts of the world for so many centuries is because very often beer was the only safe thing for someone to drink. The open water found in lakes and rivers was highly polluted, and though no one actually understood the concept of bacteria at the time, they knew from experience that drinking water was dangerous. Experience also taught them that drinking beer was safe, and the reason is quite simple; when you make beer, the water that's in it is brought to a boil. The boiling water kills the bacteria. So people concluded that drinking water could kill you. Drinking beer in moderation was quite safe.

BURT WOLF: There are ancient stone carvings that go back over six thousand years and clearly show people making beer. The ancient Egyptians even put beer into the tombs of their kings so they could have a drink in the afterlife; talk about a six pack to go. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Here at the Heineken Brewery in Holland, you can see the process pretty much the way it's been going on for the past two thousand years. It all starts with a grain called barley that people have been eating since prehistoric times. Because barley grows well in soil, even if that soil has some salt in it and because it has a very shallow root system, it was one of the earliest crops planted by the Dutch when they reclaimed their land from the sea. Brewers start the beer making process by taking the barley and mixing it with water. The process that results is called germination, kind of wakes up the sugar in the barley. They let that go on for a week and then they stop the process by toasting the barley.

BURT WOLF: The germinated and toasted grain is called malt. The malt is transferred into a big copper kettle mixed with water and heated. The starch in the malt changes to sugar. Hops, which are the leaves of a vine, are added to give flavor and help preserve the beer. The solids are filtered out and the remaining liquid is called wort. The wort is mixed with a special yeast that converts the sugar in the wort to alcohol and you have young beer. The young beer rests in a storage tank for four to six weeks, at which time it's old enough to have its own bottle.