One of Europe’s most-visited cities is the city of Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands (or Holland, depending on what you’d prefer to call it). The city is rich with history and has certainly not been throughout its share of various battles and conflicts throughout the ages, but these days it is a city that millions of people travel to each year from within Europe and beyond.
If you are considering going on holiday this year, or you just want a short European break and want to travel to a destination by yourself, or with your family or friends, then I would seriously urge you to consider Amsterdam as your next European destination! Here are some of the top reasons why people visit this popular city each year.
It’s a cheap destination to travel to
Anyone that has ever looked at a travel website or visited their local travel agent will tell you that some destinations are inherently pricier than others to visit. For example, a trip to a country near to yours will be significantly cheaper than flying to somewhere on the other side of the world.
For many Europeans including those living in the United Kingdom, Amsterdam is one of the cheapest destinations to travel to! Many flights from other European countries are inexpensive, and there is also the option to travel to the Netherlands by train or ferry.
And when it comes to finding somewhere to stay, Venere hotels in Amsterdam are a perfect example of just how affordable accommodation can be in the city, regardless of whether you are looking to stay in a hostel or you seek five star accommodation for you and your travel companions!
English is widely spoken
Although the main and official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, research from the European Commission states that over 87% of the inhabitants of the Netherlands speak English; having visited the city myself on several occasions in the past, I can confirm that you certainly won’t have a problem speaking to the locals in English.
Some people suggest that one of the main reasons for the large number of English speakers in the country is due to its relatively small size, and because of the need to speak a widely-understood language for business and trade reasons.
It is probably also due to the fact that English is a distant language relative of the Dutch language (they are both part of the West Germanic group of languages).
There is lots to see and do
There is so much to see and do in Amsterdam, that many people tend to make repeat visits to the city throughout their lifetime as there simply isn’t enough time to soak up the atmosphere and tourist attractions that such a vibrant city has to offer!
For example, those of you with an interest in history can check out places such as the Anne Frank house, the Van Gogh museum, or even the Plantage district.
Featured image : Photo via Flickr (credit: Neil Thompson)
Lights, gunpowder, music, traditional costumes and giant colourful papier-mâché figures, just a few of the things you can expect to see, should you venture to Valencia in Spain during the festival known as The Fallas.
A festival like no other
Roughly translating into English as ‘the fires’, The Fallas is a festival like no other. Held each year from March 15th to 19th, the festival celebrates the final days of winter and the arrival of spring with endless activities over four days filled with flames, fireworks and fallas (torches).
Falling during the feast of Saint Joseph (the day of the father in Spain), The Fallas is one of the most traditional festivals in Spain and one of Europe’s wildest street parties. During these four days in March, this festival transforms the city of Valencia into one big carnival.
Giant figures that take over the city’s streets
Taking centre stage at this carnival are the giant papier-mâché figures that are created for the celebrations. Every year, each neighbourhood in the city has an organised group of people called the Casal faller who work all year long holding fundraising parties and produce these constructions known as the ‘ninots’ (Valencian for puppets or dolls). During the four days leading up to 19th March, each group will parade their ninot on the city’s streets before mounting it on an elaborate firecracker-filled cardboard and papier-mâché monument where it becomes known as a falles.
Each year, the falles are constructed according to an agreed theme. This is traditionally a satirical swipe at anyone who has drawn particular attention. Although The Fallas is largely a traditional festival, in previous years falles have included modern characters such as Shrek, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Lady Gaga.
The history of The Fallas
Said to stem back to the Middle Ages, The Fallas is believed to have started when local artisans would dispose of the broken artefacts and pieces of wood that they had collected up all winter by burning them to celebrate the Spring Equinox. In particular planks of wood called parots, used by carpenters to hand their candles on to provide light in the winter, would be burnt as they would no longer be needed. With the intervention of the Church, the date this took place was moved to coincide with the celebration of the festival of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.
Over time, the traditions of The Fallas began to evolve and the parots were dressed with clothing so that they looked like people. Over the years the parots became ninots and were modelled after well-known characters.
A celebration that has spawned a huge local industry
In recent years, the production of falles has spawned a huge local industry with an entire suburban area of the city being designated the Ciutat fallera (City of Falles). In this area, crews of artists, sculptors and painters spend months utilising paper, wax, wood and Styrofoam to produce these figures.
When the town wakes after the plantà (overnight placement of the falles) on the morning of 16th March, more than 350 have been erected. Reaching up to 15m in height, with the most expensive costing more than €350,000 to build, these colourful and grotesque effigies often satirise celebrities, current affairs and local customs.
Five days of festivities
Filled with festivities, the five days and nights of The Fallas are one continuous party with historical, religious and comedy events all taking place as people spill from restaurants out on to the city streets.
During these festivities, explosions can be heard all day long and all through the night as everyone from small children to the elderly throw fireworks and firecrackers in the streets.
Every day at 2pm, the sound of firecrackers can be heard ripping through the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in the noisy event called la Macleta. A concert of gunpowder, this event sees each neighbourhood competing with one another and ends with the terremoto – or earthquake in English.
A finale filled with fireworks and flames
On the final night, The Falles features a finale that is filled with fireworks and flames. As the clock strikes midnight, the brightly coloured effigies of the falles are laden with fireworks, burnt and transformed into gigantic torches.
Away from the falles, the city resembles an open-air dance party as people fill the streets, though in the place of music there is the sound of fireworks being thrown around randomly.
Should you wish to experience The Fallas for yourself, visit Valencia between March 15th to 19th. Alternatively if you cannot make it to Spain, why not bring spring in with a festival and fireworks of your own? Visit Jordans Fireworks who will have all of the fireworks to suit your needs.