Tradition and innovation intertwine here: masterpieces, windmills, tulips and candlelit coffees coexist with innovative architecture, modern design and phenomenal nightlife.
Art and Architecture
The legacies of Dutch masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Frans Hals, Hieronymus Bosch, Piet Mondrian and MC Escher hang from the walls of
Geography plays a key role in
The flat and fabulously scenic landscapes make cycling in the
When the Dutch say coffee, they refer to a pub, and there are thousands of them. In a country that values socializing and talking more than drinking, cafes are places of contemplation and camaraderie. Many cafes have outdoor terraces, which are glorious in the summer and sometimes covered and heated in the winter. Most serve food, from snacks to fabulous meals. The most atmospheric is a brown coffee, named for the nicotine stains of past centuries - the best place to experience the Dutch state of gezelligheid (conviviality, coziness).
Although almost half have already been flooded,
Its fertile, pancake-filled landscape is filled with ditches and drainage canals, under huge open skies, while the country's towns and villages are often untouchable and unchanged places of triangular homes, beautiful canals and church pinnacles. Despite the small size of the country, each city is often a deeply secluded place with its own identity - in fact, there may be no other place in the world where you can hear so many different accents, even dialects, in such a small area. In spring and summer, the bulbfields provide strong splashes of color, and in the west and north the long coastline is marked by miles and miles of protective dunes, retreating into broad stretches of perfect beach.
A great colonial power, the Dutch merchant fleet once challenged the British for world naval supremacy, and throughout its seventeenth-century Golden Age the standard of living was unmatched. There have been some economic ups and downs since then, but today
It is also an international and well-integrated place: most people speak English, at least in the densely populated west of the country; and most of the country is easy to reach on a public transit system for trains and buses, whose efficiency can make British and American visitors cry in envy.
Successive Dutch governments have turned to political consensus - indeed, this has been the trend since the Reformation, when the competing pillars of Dutch society have learned to live - or ignore - one another, aided by the fact that commercial wealth was enriching the most people. Almost by accident, Dutch society has become tolerant and, in its enthusiasm to lessen conflict, progressive.
Many experts nowadays say that the motive behind liberal Dutch attitudes towards drug use and prostitution is not so much tolerance as apathy - and even that is under threat, with an official restriction on
Rent a bike and stroll through the flat landscape. Wherever you wander, look back through its placid exterior, where you will find a complex blend of modern technology, upstanding traditions, unique landscapes, outrageous architecture and wise, global-minded people.