Unique landscape, iconic art heritage and dangerous past form one of the best socially and economically organised countries on the planet
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Bart van Dijk, Bruno van der Kraan, Dovile Ramoskaite, Jorik Kleen, Micaela Parente, Nazar Strutynsky, Prateek Keshari, Steven Lasry
27 August 2019
In the North western part of Europe, the Netherlands hosts vintage cafés, picturesque tulip fields and a clash between traditional architecture and innovative design. Home to some of the world's greatest artists including Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Piet Mondrian and Vermeer, modern day Netherlands is heaven for the lovers of art. The big cities like Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Den Haag burst with museums where the work of contemporary artists mixes with the iconic art of celebrated Dutch Masters.
The name Netherlands translates to 'lower countries' reflecting the pancake-flat geography where only half of the land exceeds one meter above sea level. Only far in the southeast and the central parts of the country low hill ranges can be found, but the majority of the territory remains man-made and below sea level. The reason for this is the land reclamation that has been happening ever since the 16th century, due to the necessity of creating large dried land areas called 'polders'. The Dutch coastlines have suffered and transformed significantly due to human intervention and natural disasters. Massive disasters including the storm of 1134, the 1287 St. Lucia's flood and the St. Elizabeth flood of 1421 caused a great human and land loss, turning into some of the most destructive floods in global history. This made farming difficult and led to establishment of foreign trade affairs with the Dutch since the early 15th century up until modern times.
Unfortunately, the Netherlands is one of the most threatened country in terms of climate change. The ever-changing weather patterns result in overflowing rivers while the rising sea levels further endanger the life on this laid low country. Yet, at present two-thirds of the Netherlands's land is overtaken by agriculture. The North Sea winds power windmills, which pump water and mill flour, while the iconic flower fields blossom with colours every year between the months of March and May. With 20 national parks and numerous nature reserves, the lovers of the outdoor can visit dunes, lakes and woods while the Dutch part of the Wadden Sea, located in the north, is a World Heritage Nature Site of UNESCO.
Overall, the everyday life for the Dutch citizens is quite enjoyable. You will find the locals either in the nearest vintage café or simply sat around a table on the terrace as the flower-facade buildings filter the fresh summer air looking out to the sea, the hidden alleys or the town's main Grote Markt. And if you ever find yourself travelling to the Netherlands, make sure to add a local spin to the experience. You will notice the citizens of the majority of the Dutch cities cycling all over the seashores, near the rivers and canals through the thirty-two thousand kilometres long cycling paths across the country. It is not only an efficient way of getting around, but it also keeps people happier, healthier and takes better care of the environment. If you are a tourist, cycling would also give you the opportunity to enjoy the countryside and urban scenery within the big cities where cutting-edge design meets medieval Gothic and Romanesque architecture.
Another curious fact about the Dutch population is that the locals form the tallest nation in the world. On average Dutch men reach a height of 1.81 meters (5 ft 11.3 in), while the women tend to be around 1.67 meters (5 ft 5.7 in) tall. While the Netherlands has extremely dense population of over 17 million citizens, it is widely famous for its cosmopolitan society and social tolerance alongside the incredibly well-organised public educational system, universal healthcare and infrastructure. The Netherlands is among the most prosperous countries worldwide with relatively high income and international index of human development, quality of life and economic and press freedom.