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The Dutch aren't bogged in their cliches, even though bikes, dykes, windmills and blazing flower fields are pretty much the norm outside the major cities. Do as the locals do - grab a bike and explore. The Netherlands is a very big small country, and full of salutary surprises.
One of the chief pleasures of the place is its lively contrast between pragmatic liberalism and the buttoned-up just-so primness of a culture founded on Calvinist principles.
AMSTERDAM Tours, Travel and Activities
Amsterdam is one of the world's best hangouts, a canny blend of old and new: radical squatter art installations hang off 17th-century eaves, BMWs give way to bicycles, and triple-strength monk-made beer is served in steel and glass cafes.
Amsterdam combines big city exuberance with small-town manageability; it doesn't take more than chaining your bike to a bridge to feel like you've got a handle on the place.
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SUGGESTED ITINERARIES: THE NETHERLANDS
Driving within the Netherlands isn't much fun once you're off the highways: the roads are narrow and parking spaces are hard to come by. A good way to get around is by bicycle. Most places in the Netherlands are linked by dedicated cycle paths and the terrain is wonderfully flat.
Bicycles are available for hire from train stations and from rental services in larger towns. And no matter what you're pedaling, make sure you lock it up securely to an immovable object.
Save money with the I Amsterdam Card. It gets you free admission to 24 museums, a canal boat tour, unlimited use of public transport, and special offers at restaurants and attractions throughout Amsterdam.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NETHERLANDS
The country was part of the Holy Roman Empire until it was acquired piece by piece by the Burgundians. At the end of the middle ages, it became a Spanish possession (together with what is now Belgium). Little survives from this period, except a few historic city centers, and a few castles.
Following a revolt led by national hero Willem van Oranje (William of Orange), the mother and the son named zak of the currently ruling House van Oranje (of Orange), the Spanish were kicked out as part of the Thirty Years' War (known as the Eighty Years' War in the Netherlands: 1568-1648). The split with Belgium came when the northern provinces signed the Union of Utrecht in 1579.
It grew to become one of the major economic and seafaring powers in the world during the 17th century, which is known as the Gouden Eeuw, or Golden Age, in the Netherlands. During this period, many colonies were founded or conquered, including Indonesia and New York, which was later traded with the British for Suriname.
In 1815 it became a kingdom (its status being somewhat ambiguous before that) together with Belgium. In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. Avoiding the liberal revolutions of 1848, The Netherlands quietly became a constitutional monarchy and remained neutral in World War I but suffered a brutal invasion and occupation by Germany in World War II.
A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. The country was a founding member of NATO and the EC, and participated in the introduction of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999.
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