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Netherlands
 
So low-lying they named the country after it – though just to confuse us, the two flat coastal regions with their dykes and polders sea-reclamation schemes, provided the alternative name of ‘Holland’. (‘Dutch’ comes from the linguistic connection with Deutsch – German.). The flatness makes for easy riding (by bike), and a tremendous canal network, over 100 km in Amsterdam alone, makes for leisurely sight-seeing by boat. While the centre of government is The Hague, the capital is, in fact Amsterdam, a vibrant and varied city. Music (the Concertgebouw) and art (Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Van Gogh at the Rijksmuseum) provide the culture, the historic liberal attitudes of the Dutch provide a café society that makes everyone feel at home. Rotterdam is still a major port, reflecting the long Dutch association with the sea that built a major maritime empire. One outcome is the many Indonesian influences, notably in some of the most wonderful restaurants and food. There are windmills in Amsterdam itself; there are tulip fields outside (though the city’s flower market is a visitor highlight); you may even still see the occasional clog. It’s a great blend of traditional and modern.
 
Amsterdam
 
Tree-lined streets and canals are like a spider’s web, making Amsterdam an easy place to walk, cycle or boat around. More than a thousand bridges link strings of graceful, gabled houses, none finer than in the Jordaan quarter. Here, wealthy and more workaday homes dating back to the 1600s capture the essence of Holland’s unofficial capital. Rembrandts and Vermeers hang in the Rijksmuseum, while the genius of Van Gogh is celebrated nearby. By day, canal boats, floating flower markets, antique and diamond dealers all ply their trade, while at night, neon windows around the Oude Kerke district light up, Indonesian rijstafels are laid out and shots of Jenever – Dutch gin – go down a treat.
 

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