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Gap Year in The Netherlands

The beautiful city of Amsterdam is not the only attraction this country has offer Gap year travellers.

Famous for its painters, immerse yourself in the Netherland's rich culture, while soaking up fields of flowers, elegant windmills, lively markets and (if you have the enerygy) enjoy some adrenaline-pumping watersports. 

Why visit the Netherlands during a Gap year?

The Netherlands (that’s agreed then – phew!) is almost the same size as Switzerland, but somewhat more crowded with a population of close to 17 million against 7.3 million.

The need for and success in land reclamation is an important factor in Dutch life.

Reclamation activity can be traced back to the eleventh century (and possibly before), with the use of dikes to create areas of usable land called polders.

One of the ways in which water is controlled is through the use of that Dutch icon, the windmill.

A good place to visit is the Mills of Kinderdijk; here you will find a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of 19 windmills.

They were constructed in the 1740s following the Saint Elizabeth Flood of 1742 and still operate today, although, just to spoil the picture the main work is done by diesel pumping stations. More details at www.kinderdijk.nl.

A sizable area of The Netherlands is occupied by the Rhine – Meuse – Scheldt delta where these three great European rivers reach the sea.

The relationship between the sea and the land is ever changing through natural phenomenon, storms, floods, and man’s activity in terms of supporting reclamation and facilitating trade.

Hence another Dutch icon - the canal.

Amsterdam, the capital is famous for its network of canals which form concentric circles around the city known as the Grachtengordel (excitedly translates as canal district!).

This creates numerous islands linked charming little bridges which you might remember from Van Der Valk, and featured a catchy theme tune Eye Level by the Simon Park Orchestra, which reached number one in the UK charts in September 1973.

Located on the Prinsengracht Canal is Anne Frank House.

No introduction required here – let nobody ever forget.

The museum was closed for a long period, but now receives over a million visitors per year. More details at www.annefrank.org.

The Rijksmuseum is the national museum of the Netherlands, with its main focus on history and art.

Please bear in mind that at present the museum is undergoing a major refurbishment; make sure to check the situation when planning a visit.

The Dutch Golden Age was the period which does not have a definitive start and end date, but was a time when Dutch art and trade were preeminent.

The Eighty Years War between Spain and the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands ended in 1648 with the Treaty of Munster creating an independent Netherlands.

Before, during and after this the Netherlands had become a powerful trading and military entity.

The Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602 and its trade with, what was known as, the East Indies, Japan and China accumulated substantial profits.

Mercantile conflict lead to military conflict with their main rival, England, with four Anglo-Dutch Wars during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Dutch art and science flourished with such luminaries as Rembrandt (1606-69), Vermeer (1632-75), the great scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629-95) and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1633-77).

This is reflected in the Rijksmuseum with such artefacts as the stern of the then pride of the English navy HMS King Charles, captured and towed back to the Netherlands (the whole ship, not just the stern obviously!) following the Raid on the Medway in 1667, where the Dutch Admiral De Ruyter inflicted what many see as the Royal Navy’s worst defeat.

Rembrandt’s the Night Watch, Vermeer’s the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, and some examples of the work of the great landscape painter Jacob Van Ruysdael (c1628-82).

Check the current situation and more details at www.rijksmuseum.nl.

Have to mention the man with an ear (or part thereof) for art Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) his museum in Amsterdam started from the art and correspondence in the possession of Vincent’s Brother Theo.

The museum's excellent website is www.vangoghmuseum.nl.

If they are your best friend then Amsterdam is famous for the diamond trade and boasts a small, and secure diamond museum at the Museumplein – www.diamantmuseumamsterdam.nl.

Just time for a short trip outside the capital to Delft, about a twenty minute train ride away.

An easy to explore city (hire a bike), which had to be rebuilt after a huge gunpowder explosion in 1654 destroyed the centre.

Famous for Johannes Vermeer, a lifelong resident, who is buried in the Oude Kirk – http://oudeennieuwekerkdelft.nl.

Delft Blue earthenware has been produced here since 1602 with production now concentrated in one factory - Royal Delft, where you can explore the history, see the process and maybe try your hand at a little ceramic decoration (see http://www.royaldelft.com).

Leiden is an ancient university city located about forty kilometres north of Amsterdam.

It clearly is not sensible to let the Dutch near gunpowder, because like Delft Leiden suffered its own big bang in 1807.

Today it has some notable areas of seventeen century architecture and the Molen Museum de Valk – yes, a windmill museum, located on Molenwerf.

A little history

Back to this rather English confusion over the title of its near neighbour.

The Netherlands is a country of uncertain size and shape as it seeks to gain land from the sea, and defend itself from the sea’s reclamation.

A nation forged after a long conflict with Spain, and in terms of its name, a participant in a bitter trade and hot war with England.

Hence the English negative linguistic campaign: double Dutch – gibberish (all from Collins Dictionary), Dutch courage and Dutch bargain – requiring or resulting from alcohol, Dutch metal – cheap alternative to gold leaf, Dutch uncle – a stern unhelpful  critic.

When in conflict use language to demean your adversary, including not granting it a settled name, and if you believe that I’m a Dutchman.

Further information

For more gap year travel ideas in Europe, please see: