World Cup 2014: Who is the Real Winner?
At this stage of the proceedings it’s looking like it could boil down to a battle between Germany and the Netherlands for the World Cup 2014 title, but who would win a battle for the most appealing destination? We took a look at both European soccer powerhouses to see which country would come out on top in a match based on tourist appeal. We look at access, attractiveness, food, and a combination of other factors that we call “atmosphere”. It’s not scientific and it’s totally subjective, but this is what we found:
Germany is synonymous with the autobahn, the first highway system ever constructed, so it’s hardly surprising that the country’s transportation infrastructure remains one of the best developed and most modern in the world. Rent a car in Germany and enjoy a superb motorway network with no general speed limit for light vehicles (although most sections do operate posted speed limits today).
Frankfurt Airport is the third busiest in the world (after London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle) and the tenth-busiest in the world. Domestic flights have taken off within Germany, but they face competition from the exceptionally efficient (and very expensive) Deutsche Bahn rail network. High-speed trains called ICE connect cities for passenger travel with speeds up to 300 km/h. Transport gaps persist in the former East Germany, although considerable efforts have been made to expand and improve the infrastructure here.
Germany may be the world’s most underrated nation when it comes to scenic attractions. Seriously. A place of fairytale castles and deep forests, crystalline lakes and soaring mountains, Germany really does not receive the attention it deserves.
Cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, or Cologne may be more energetic than beautiful, but smaller places like Dresden and Leipzig have been restored or maintained to gingerbread-house perfection. For real delights, however, get out of the cities and travel Bavaria’s Romantic Road, with turreted castles around every bend, the magnificence of the Alps, and the sumptuous sweep of the Rhine with its vineyards.
Overcome your misconceptions and you’ll discover a land of delights and surprises, from the university city of Heidelberg to the medieval jewel of Regensburg.
Germany has a reputation for stodgy food and wurst with everything, but don’t accept the cliches: Sure, there is a bewildering array of wurst and meats (including the infamous Black Forest Ham), but the Germans also have a way with fruit and vegetables (think gorgeous soups sprinkled with speck or apples stuffed with spiced granola) and their tasty breads are chewy and studded with all sorts of good things. If you prefer fine dining,there are now 11 restaurants in Germany with three Michelin stars, 37 two-star restaurants, and a whopping 226 one-star restaurants. At the other end of the price scale, some of the tastiest and most affordable food in Germany is available from Turkish and Middle Eastern vendors. So leave your stereotypes behind and you won’t leave Germany hungry.
And that’s before we even start on the liquid refreshments available in this country. If we were to score Germany on beer alone, we could stop the contest right now. The vast selection of ambrosial lagers and ales ranges from Pilsner to Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (Bavarian wheat beer) to the unique smoky flavour of Rauchbier. If you don’t like beer, don’t forget wines: German riesling, silvaner and rivaner white wines are light and refreshing and its pinot noirs are deliciously floral.
Staying in Germany is cheaper than in neighboring Euro-zone countries. You can get a hostel bed from under €20 and budget hotels start from about €50. You won’t pay much to eat here, either. Eating at street stalls will set you back only a few euros for excellent local sausages and bread, with ethnic food costing even less. Beer is quite strong and cheap, so sampling the local tipples will not cripple you – well, not financially at least.
Travelling on Germany’s high-speed train system is expensive, but you’ve booked your car hire in Germany through Nova, so that won’t be an issue.
Germans have a reputation for being somewhat dour and unspontaneous, but although their focus and organisational skills may take some getting used to, they are actually extremely helpful and pleasant to visitors.
OVERALL SCORE: 38/50 (76%)
A key point in the Netherlands’ favour is that it is a compact country and, therefore, easy to get around. Renting a car in the Netherlands is a delight: The highway network is one of the most comprehensive in the world, with 135,470km of public roads. A motorway density of 57.5 kilometres per 1,000 km2 gives the Netherlands the densest motorway network in the European Union.
If you feel like taking a break from the car, hop on your bike. Some 27% of all journeys made in the Netherlands are by bicycle – the highest of any country in the world. Cycling is not just tolerated but embraced, with dedicated cycle tracks, and generous bicycle parking facilities.
Getting in and out of the country is easy, with Schiphol Amsterdam the fourth largest airport in Europe. Among the country’s most popular regional airports are Eindhoven Airport, Groningen Airport Eelde,and Rotterdam The Hague Airport.
If you are interested in art, it may not interest you in the slightest that the Netherlands is scattered with jewels of evocative beauty. You will be so immersed in the treasures of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Hieronymous Bosch, and Mondrian that you might not care about the charm of places like Edam, Delft, Haarlem, Deventer, and, of course, Amsterdam. Then there the canal towns of Leiden and Utrecht and the Modernist wonder that is Rotterdam. Lively towns like Den Bosch, Groningen, and Maastricht buzz with socialising Dutch locals, and the lush countryside is lined with canals, tulip fields (blooming in April/May), and windmills that defy the cliches to produce an idyllic setting for any holiday.
Dutch cuisine is traditionally rather hearty simple fare, underpinned by the Netherland’s strong agricultural history. Think of snert or erwtensoep – a rib-sticking soup composed of peas, celery, and root vegetables and filled with smoked sausage and cubes of bacon. Potatoes are a key ingredient of most meals, so get used to stamppot ( a dish of mashed potatoes with vegetables) and sauerkraut.
In season, enjoy fresh herring from street vendors, but you can eat it pickled or smoked all year round. Dessert is an indulgent affair, with more than 25 different varieties of pancakes, including poffertjes, tiny ones sprinkled with sugar, fruit or syrups. Pastries stuffed with almond paste are another classic Dutch treat.
Indonesian food is becoming increasingly popular here due to the influx of immigrants, with standards consistently high. And if you’re thirsty, remember that the Netherlands have been synonymous with beer since the 1700s. (Heineken was born here in 1873). So if you like your lager, this is the place to be.
When it comes to visitor attractions, the Netherlands is ideal for those on a budget. Strolling by the canals, relaxing in a café, or wandering around a market are all quintessentially Dutch, yet easily affordable.
Accommodation is rather different, however. Amsterdam is one of the most expensive cities in Europe for hotels. Move outside the city centre, as Amsterdam is small and easily walkable. B&Bs are not necessarily cheaper than hotels.
Eating out can also be a costly experience, so try one of the eetcafés (“eat-cafés”), which generally have a cheap and tasty dish of the day. In Amsterdam, De Pijp, south of the centre, is the district to target for value restaurants. Indonesian and Turkish food here is very good – and affordable.
People in the Netherlands have a reputation for being very open and direct. This blunt, no-nonsense attitude may come across as rude or crude, but what may strike outsiders as impolite or embarrassing is quite normal here. Don’t expect phrases such as “Excuse me” or “Thank you so much” to be bandied about.
The Dutch would consider themselves merely to be straightforward and honest, dismissing English and U.S. norms of politeness as insincere and hypocritical. That said, the people you encounter here tend to be very friendly and sociable, so once you understand the slight cultural differences, you should feel very welcome.
Overall Score: 36/50 (72%)
And the winner is…
It was a close-run thing, but in the end Germany comfortably dispatched the Netherlands with a 1-0 defeat in Nova Car Hire’s inaugural World Cup of travel destinations.