Vincent Van Gogh once said, “I feel there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people,” and nowhere does that statement ring more true than in his native homeland of the Netherlands. A glorious mix of age-old traditions, beautiful countryside, colorful, modern European communities, and warm, loving people await you in Amsterdam, The Netherlands’ most visited city, where you will find a network of stunning canals, charismatic squares and wonderful architecture, with a tram network running a ring around the cobblestone streets of the city center.
Among the city’s star attractions are the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum, all serving to feed your hunger for culture. Outside the cities, the countryside of the Netherlands is truly breathtaking, with rolling green hills and meadows dotted with quaint villages, charming windmills, attractive dykes, and beautiful church steeples. Unlike many other European countries, farming and agriculture continue to play a leading part in Dutch society and are pivotal to the success of so many small communities.
The Netherlands is home to many picturesque villages, traditional towns and fascinating cities. Rivaling Amsterdam for culture and attraction, Utrecht is home to a host of festivals and events, with an amazing arts scene and collection of tall cathedrals and spectacular windmills. Further south is Rotterdam, the country’s most romantic city, where age-old beauty in the form of canals, castles and ancient buildings has been married with tasteful modern developments and contemporary structures.
The spring is by far the best time to visit the Netherlands as it is the driest season of the year and watching the tulip fields, flowers and trees blossom is a sight to behold. Temperatures from late March to late May can vary between 50-77°F (10 and 25°C).
Currency: the Euro
Official language: Dutch
The Netherlands has long been known as a low-lying country with a testing relationship with the North Sea, making it a difficult area to live in for its early Celtic and Germanic occupants. While mounds and moats suggest evidence of constant flooding in the ancient communities, the many wetlands, rivers and wooded areas made it a very difficult land to cross and conquer, keeping would-be invaders at bay. It wasn’t until about the 1st century BC that the Roman Empire finally conquered what is now known as the Netherlands, immediately making a key military port in Nijmegen. Roman rule lasted for some 300 years, until the Franks invaded from Germany, taking advantage of the weakened state. Afterwards, Christianity was introduced and the country was under the control of the empire of Charlemagne.
After the fall of the Charlemagne Empire in 814 AD, the Netherlands was divided into many smaller states which were run by counts and dukes in the Middle Ages, helping the area to become one of the richest in Europe for agriculture and commerce. As wealth grew, the main ports became key European trading hubs with Asia and Africa.
The country’s dukes and counts soon began to battle for power, clashing over land ownership. In 1555, Charles of the Habsburg dynasty stepped in to control of the country to his son, Philip II, the king of Spain. As the new royal family was Catholic and the majority of the Dutch were not, friction ensued and whole communities refused to pay taxe. Unrest grew, finally sending the country into an 80-year war, resulting in the Dutch independence from Spain. However, despite its new freedom, the Netherlands was suffering from a lack of identity and unity, and was soon under the rule of the Austrian throne of the Habsburgs.
There are few communities more laidback or down-to-earth than the Dutch. Arrogance and pretention rarely go down well in the Netherlands, whereas high spirits, friendship and family are things to be proud of. The Dutch also have a reputation of being economically saavy and prefer to save money rather than indulge on unnecessary consumerism. Despite the country’s lavish buildings and architecture, extravagance is not always celebrated, often seen as being wasteful and inconsiderate. Instead, the people of the Netherlands are more interested in art, music and international affairs, which is evident by their daily discussions of global issues.
The Netherlands is known as one of the most secular countries in Europe and it’s believed that around 40 percent of Dutch people have no religion. About 30 percent of the population are Roman Catholic and below five percent are practicing Muslims. Despite it once being the dominant faith in the Netherlands, now only an estimated 20 percent of the people are Protestant, and the number of churches has considerably dwindled over the past two centuries.
The sea and coasts plays a big role in the Netherland's weather and climate. Winters are generally mild, but the country experiences cold spells and sharp frosts in January and February, which often freeze over the lakes and waterways. The summers tend to be warm and pleasant with temperatures averaging between 68-77°F (20-25°C) in July and August. Indland, the eastern portion experiences slightly colder winters with summers just a bit warmer.
The Netherlands is part of the Schengen Agreement, which means there are no border controls for nationals of EU countries. EU citizens only require a valid national identity card or passport to enter The Netherlands. Non-EU citizen require a valid passport and possibly a visa if you intend on a longer visit.
It’s not hard to spot a taxi in the Netherlands as they have a brightly lit sign on their roof, but it’s more common for cabs to be booked over the phone than hailed in the street. You’ll also find the unique Treintaxis (train taxis) at a number of train stations in the Netherlands, which encourages passengers to share a ride to significantly reduce costs. Treintaxis are available in 30 different Dutch cities, but unfortunately they are not in place in Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Den Haag yet. For more information or to book a train taxi call 0900-873-4682.
Traveling around the Netherlands by boat is not always the cheapest or quickest way to get between or within large cities, but it can be an enjoyable and stress-free mode of transportation. To explore the Wadden or Frisian Islands, the main ferry operator is called Teso and tickets can be planned and purchased online (http://www.teso.nl). For canal and river cruises around the Netherlands, there are a vast number of large and private operators. For travel further afield, the port of Amsterdam is where you’ll find a number of cruise ship stops and international ferry locations at the Amsterdam Passenger Terminal (http://www.ptamsterdam.nl), which is close to downtown.
The Netherlands has an exceptionally well developed and smoothly run rail network, connecting all towns, cities and locations of interest, with journeys generally on the cheap side. Major routes tend to run at 30-minute intervals, with bus lines and timetables set up to coincide with train arrivals and departures, making trip planning very easy and in tune with the Dutch way of life. The national rail service is NV Nederlandse Spoorwegen (http://www.ns.nl), with some regional routes covered by Syntus (http://www.syntus.nl) and Arriva (http://www.arriva.nl). Amsterdam is exceptionally easy to get around, with a color-coded and numbered tram network fully encircling the city in both directions.
Most cities and towns of the Netherlands have a good network of bus routes, though trains and trams tend to be the same cost (if not cheaper) and quicker. The same goes for longer journeys, with coach companies such as Interliner (http://www.reiziger.connexxion.nl), offering trips between most major towns and cities.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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