Exploring The Netherlands is like merging
tradition with technology. Despite the fact that it embraces
development in many aspects of social life, it manages to preserve its
valued traditions and practices. This is perhaps the reason why many
tourists choose this holiday spot over other destinations. And with so
many Holland and
Amsterdam apartments available for rent at extremely low costs,
this country remains to be one of the most visited in the world. Know
more about what it has to offer by reading the useful information
In a country where you can get a sex change on the national health scheme, and where Hilde and her two dads can share a joint to celebrate that she likes boys too, why does the washing up always get done straight after dinner? The Netherlands has managed to combine liberal attitudes with one of the most orderly societies on earth, in a community which manages to be radical and sensible without being silly or staid. The Dutch aren't bogged in their clichés, even though bikes, dykes, windmills and blazing flower fields are pretty much the norm outside the major cities.
For travelers, the integration of the clog and the microchip works well. The Netherlands is easy to travel in and the locals are friendly and speak excellent English, but towns are still surrounded by canals and castle walls, the endlessly flat landscape which inspired the nation's early artists still stretches unbroken to the horizons, and the dykes still occasionally threaten to give way.
The Netherlands has spawned a realm of famous painters starting with Hieronymous Bosch whose 15th-century religious works are charged with fear, distorted creatures and agonized people. Rembrandt, with his use of light and shadow, created shimmering religious scenes and led the historic artists of the golden age. Frans Hals and Jan Vermeer were the contemporary masters of portraiture and daily life scenes, two revolutionary themes which became popular due to the decline in the influence of the church as patron of the arts. Although Vincent van Gogh's (1853-90) spent much of his life in Belgium and France, he is very much claimed by the Dutch as one of their own. His early works, including the dour Potato Eaters, were painted in his homeland, but the later impressionistic works were greatly influenced by French artists. A little later, Piet Mondriaan introduced his cubic De Stijl movement, while this century has seen the perplexing designs of Maurits Escher.
Dutch (Netherlandic) is a West Germanic language spoken by about 25 million people worldwide. As well as being the first language in the Netherlands, it's also spoken in the northern half of Belgium and a tiny north-western corner of France. Dutch often looks like it should be comprehensible to the English speaker, but once you hear it spoken, it shoots off into previously uncharted vowel and dip thong realms. Luckily, most Dutch people speak excellent English and are happy to use it.
The Dutch do delightful dairy products and superb sweet snacks, but traditional main course Dutch gastronomy gets a bit heavy and meaty. Thanks to the sizeable Indonesian, Chinese, Surinamese, Turkish and Italian communities there are plenty of spicy alternatives. Vegetarians are not terribly well catered for, but most restaurants will have at least one meat-free dish. The national fast-food is frites (chips). If you ask for frites met (chips with), you'll get them with mayonnaise just like a real Dutchie. Kroketten (croquettes) and other hot lumps of meat are dispensed by vending machines, à la the Jetsons. Beer is the staple drink, served cool and with a head of froth so big it would start a brawl in an Australian pub. According to Heineken, this is to 'capture the flavor bubbles which would otherwise fly away' - yeah, right! Double and triple strength Belgian beers are very popular in the Netherlands - beware. Dutch gin (genever) is often drunk with a beer chaser; the combination is known as a kopstoot ('head butt').
Anyone who's worth their weight in bongwater knows that you can buy wacky tabacky in shops in the Netherlands. Marijuana is not officially legal, but you are able to buy grass, hash, loose joints, smoking paraphernalia and seeds in registered 'coffee shops'. Magic mushrooms are also available. This doesn't mean that every Dutch person is a pot-head. On the contrary, only about 5% of the population indulge (less than in France where drug policy is much stricter), and it's definitely not on to light up on the street or a non-'smoking' establishment. There's no shortage of hard drugs around, but you're likely to be ripped off if buying from street dealers, and be warned that the penalties are as severe as in other European countries.
Although the Dutch have the cute habit of calling anything higher than a speed bump a mountain, the Netherlands is largely a flat and soggy bog. Most of its land has been reclaimed from the sea over the centuries and the drained polders are protected by dykes, very few of which are plugged by little boys' fingers. More than half of the country lies below sea level and only in the south-east Limburg province will you find hills. The Netherlands is bordered by the North Sea, Belgium and Germany. The Rhine is the major river, slurping up runoff from the proper mountains in Germany and Switzerland and slopping it out all over the flat lands.
One of the country's worst disasters hit in 1953 when a high spring tide coupled with a severe storm breached the dykes in Zeeland drowning 1835 people. To ensure the tragedy would never be repeated, the Delta Project blocked the south-west river deltas using a network of dams, dykes and a remarkable 3.2km storm surge barrier which is only lowered in rough conditions. In 1995 the largest mandatory evacuation in the Netherlands since the Zeeland disaster was carried out after heavy rain in France and Belgium caused the Meuse and Waal rivers to flood. Some 240,000 people were relocated from Gelderland, the region based around Nijmegen, due to fears that dykes along the two rivers would burst.
Forget about wilderness in the Netherlands. This is Europe's most densely populated country, but it feels like the most organized place in the world. The western hoop of cities including Amsterdam, the Hague and Rotterdam is one of the most densely populated conurbations on earth and even out of this area it doesn't get exactly isolated. Towns often blur from one to the next, linked by highways and bicycle paths. Neat, flat, muddy fields and tame and pleasant woodlands act as buffers; there are even places where you can hear the twittering of birds above the constant traffic drone.
The Netherlands has a temperate maritime climate with cool winters and mild summers. It can get pretty drizzly here, especially in autumn and spring when it can seem as though it's going to be gray forever. But because the Netherlands is such a flat slab of a place, changes sweep through quickly when the wind starts to blow.