Koninkrijk der Nederlanden
Welcome to my Netherlands page: what follows is some basic information, and then some links to interesting sites for Netherlands information.
|THE NAME. Netherlands, or "nether" "lands," shows that this is a low-lying territory; 1/3 of it is below sea level. In Britain, it is occasionally referred to as the "low countries," and the French name translates as exactly that. In Dutch, the country can be called either "Nederland" [pronounced NADERLAHNT], which is obviously in the singular, or by its official name: "Koninkrijk der Nederlanden," which means Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a monarchy (more about that later).|
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|What about calling it "HOLLAND"? The Dutch tourist bureau, government, etc., are always telling everybody that this is incorrect. They are *technically* right, but if you use "Holland," people will know what you are talking about -- and many Dutchmen do call the country just that. The reason for the argument is that the Netherlands used to be a series of principalities of which Holland was one: today Holland forms the two western coastal provinces along the North Sea. Friesland (Fryslan), Brabant, Gelderland, Zeeland, and Utrecht are examples of other principalities that came together to form the Netherlands and today have provinces named after them. Holland was the most powerful of the bunch, which may be why the country is often named for it.|
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THE PLACE. Well, it's small. It is less than a quarter the size of Georgia -- between 13,000 and 14,000 square miles -- and home to some 15 million people. Much of it started as swampy mounds surrounded by brackish water; even in the middle ages, these swamps were dammed and emptied to make farm land; the result is a type of low-lying land called a polder, which dominates the landscape in the west. The land rises to the south and east but it never gets mountainous. The north-central part of the country used to be an inland sea, but it is now almost entirely filled in - and a new province has been created, Flevoland, with a capital city, Lelystad, named after the visionary politician and engineer who pursued the land-creating project.
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|THE PAST. The Netherlands was known to the ancient Romans, who called it "Batavia," and the southern Netherlands has a number of sites founded by the Romans, as can be guessed from their names: for example, Castricum. The Germanic tribes who settled the region had a fairly well developed independent existence by the middle ages, but the unity of the modern Netherlands does not begin until the 16th century. The whole "nether lands" belonged to the great European imperial family, the Hapsburgs. In mid-century, however, the region was divided between that family's Austrian and Spanish branches: Belgium went to Austria, Holland to Spain. Spain imposed taxes and a more repressive style of Roman Catholicism; the result was a revolutionary war that dragged on for about 80 years and did not end until 1648, when the country's independence was recognized by the Treaty of Westphalia. In the 17th century, Holland was a major power, on a par with England, for example, and its enormous commercial center of Amsterdam made it fabulously wealthy by the standards of the time. The Netherlands became a global empire, with territories in North and South America, Africa, India, and east Asia. Inevitably, the growing power of France and Britain overshadowed the Netherlands and by the early 19th century it was clear that the Netherlands was no longer a major world power -- although it hung on to its colonial empire until 1949. The Netherlands had a mixed record in trying to avoid the crises and chaos of modern Europe. It was conquered by France during the French Revolutionary era (1789-1815) and Nazi Germany (1940-1945) but it did manage, with considerable skill, to avoid World War I (1914-1918). The Netherlands was briefly combined with Belgium (1815-1830) but this was a failure. Luxembourg was nominally part of Holland until late in the 19th century.|
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|THE PRESENT. The Netherlands abandoned its neutrality after World War II and became a member of NATO and an ally of the United States. While losing its colonies, it regained its footings as a global commercial center with great speed. Rotterdam became the world's largest port city. The Netherlands is a major center of multinational corporations.|
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|GOVERNMENT. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, just like most of its northern neighbors (Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden; elsewhere in Europe, only Spain, the Vatican, and Liechtenstein retain monarchies. Voting in Holland is proportional; you vote for the party of your choice, and that party gets the same percentage of seats in parliament that it got in the general election. For example: if a party gets 1/3 of the national vote, it would get 50 out of the 150 seats in the legislature. Needless to say, this encourages people to form a lot of parties! Right now the country is run by a coalition made up of the VVD, the D66, and the PvdA, while in opposition you have CDA, SP, GroenLinks, GPV, SGP, RPF, . . . and more. Many other parties have come and gone, through electoral failures or mergers: ARP, CHU, KVP, RKPN, DS70, PPR, CPN, VCN, CD, . . . this may be a bit hard to comprehend for us, because America has not had a new (lasting) political party started since 1854! Yet politics in Holland are quite moderate despite the profusion of parties.|
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|TRAVEL. In a word: go. It's a great country for Americans to travel in. English is spoken very widely; almost everybody knows some. Travel is easy. From Atlanta, Delta and the Dutch airline KLM fly daily direct to the airport at Amsterdam. Schiphol Airport is popular with international travellers, and it's easy to see why; finding your way is simple, it never seems overcrowded despite the enormous number of travellers it handles, and leaving the airport is a model of simplicity: there is a train station in the basement (if you've ever been to Washington's Dulles airport you know why this is such a great convenience). The railroad system is superb and fast -- and you rarely have to worry about missing a train, because another one to the same destination may only be minutes behind. There is a very good hotel rating system, and every participating hotel must meet basic standards of comfort and cleanliness. Dutch towns and cities are very big on preservation, and if you really want to see what buildings and streets looked like in sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, there is no better place to go.|
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|PLACES TO GO: The logical starting place is AMSTERDAM, since that's where the country's international airport is located. Be sure to take a canal boat tour - even city residents join this tourist-oriented trip. Art and history lovers should stop in at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. GOUDA is another must stop; its main market square, surrounded by cafes and with its medieval city hall, is matchless; and just a block off the square is the city's main church, which has a set of stain glass windows that by themselves justify a trip to the city. MIDDELBURG, in the southwest is also incredibly beautiful - and also a skip & jump from the beaches (this part of the country does get busy in the summer. These are just a few; see the link of the Netherlands Bord of Tourism for more information.|
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|A few downsides to travelling in the Netherlands: First, don't expect the level of amenities you get in American motels; only the expensive hotel chains will have those. Second, driving in the country during tourist season means traffic jams - big ones. Third, trying to drive in a Dutch city can be an unnerving experience. THERE IS NO PARKING to speak of in many city centers; to use parking garages, you may need to first buy a parking pass at the local tourist office "VVV" - which is usually next to the railway station. By all means go there - if you can find a parking space. One problem I ran into the last time I drove in Holland was that as medieval street plans are not square, you can't just "make a block" if you miss your turn. By all means rent a car if you want to; just plan ahead a little. The roads are quite good and traffic signs use international symbols, so don't worry if Dutch looks like Greek to you.|
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Although the Netherlands has a Protestant image, history, and culture, it has more Catholics than Protestants.
The "finger in the dike" story is absolute bunk. The town where it didn't happen go so tired of explaining this to tourists that it put up a statue to the boy who never existed.
Four American presidents were of Dutch descent: Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. Some information about the Roosevelt family's Dutch ancestors can be found at the website for the town of Vossemeer.
Amsterdam stands on a forest. To make stone buildings stand in swampy soil, the Dutch forced tree trunks straight down into the mud until a solid platform of tree ends existed.
The Dutch navy has a great history - but it is the only fleet that was captured by cavalry (horse) soldiers. In 1795 the French army crossed the frozen Zuyder Zee and captured the ships, which could not move due to the ice.
Since I just mentioned the Dutch navy, I'll put a more positive "spin" on its history; it captured the English fleet flagship in the 1660s and towed it home. The gilded stern piece is still preserved in the Rijksmuseum (national museum) in Amsterdam.
Michigan, Iowa, Texas, and New York all had large Dutch settlements. In Texas, there are towns like Harlingen and Nederland. In Michigan, I remember a congressional race once between two guys whose last names were Van der Laan and Van der Veen; the Republican majority leader at that time, also a Michigander, was Van der Jagt. ("Van" in a last name indicates Dutch heritage; no caps if using a person's full name).
New York began its existence as New Amsterdam; there is an African-American newspaper in New York which preserves the name. The colony began when Peter Minuit paid the famous 24 dollars for Manhattan (the sellers ripped him off; they didn't live on Manhattan). Many names around New York have Dutch origins. Brooklyn comes from Breukelen, where I spent many summers visiting family; Harlem comes from Haarlem; Staten Island, Schuylkill, and many others are Dutch. "Uy" or "ui" usually indicates a Dutch past.
New Amsterdam was a center of religious tolerance. The British agreed to leave the colony internally unmolested if surrendered to the British without a shot. It did (the Dutch merchants were far more interested in their balance sheets than their flag) and the Brits kept their promise. Our own tradition of religious tolerance has some of its roots there.
The Pilgrims went to Leiden, Holland, before going to Massachusetts.
The Netherlands was one of the first countries to recognize the USA as an independent country, and one of its bankers (an ancestor of mine) raised funds for George Washington's Continental Army. Washington was pleased, but did note that the gentleman in question, a Mr. Willink, did not impoverish himself in the process. Willink became European representative of the Bank of the United States.
Jan van Riebeeck, another ancestor, founded South Africa - although he had no intention of doing so. He established a Dutch outpost in South Africa in 1652 in order to give the Dutch East Indies Company, or VOC, a stopping station for ships. Farmers and settlers followed - at first encouraged, then discouraged, by the VOC - and the rest is history.
Two of England's most famous generals - Marlborough and Wellington - commanded large numbers of Dutch troops.
For my fellow Augustans: if you shop at BI-LO, you're dealing with a Dutch multinational.
The Netherlands officially became a monarchy at about the same time that many countries were shedding theirs. Holland officially became a monarchy in 1815.
Holland was the first country to fly a tri-colored flag as a revolutionary symbol.
Before John Paul II, you have to go back to 1522 to find a non-Italian pope; Adriaan Drebel, from Utrecht.
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L I N K S
Netherlands search engines menu. English available.
Netherlands search engine. English available.
Radio/TV service: includes TeleText, an on-screen news source. In Dutch.
Schiphol International Airport. A "must see;" includes virtual maps of airport.
Royal Library. English available.
National Archives of the Netherlands.
Amsterdam/Utrecht tourist information. English available. Utrecht has a fascinating history - and
Railroads home page. From this page, you can plan trips and check train times. Incidentally, the short-version rail guide available from the Tourist Board has a complete set of English-language instructions.
Tourist information on Dutch cities. English.
The Hague tourist information.
Hotel information; good site, has some information that Netherlands Tourist Board (next link) may not have. NBT is more comprehensive, however.
Dutch Heritage site [maintained by the "Windmill Herald"].
Click here or on the above image for the Netherlands Board of Tourism home page. A MUST STOP if you are going; tremendous hotel information, and almost anything else you might want to know about.
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