Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Positive Thoughts About the Netherlands: Water

The Dutch relationship with water is well-documented and world famous. From dykes, reclaimed land, polders and windmills, to boats, city canals and mud-walking, Dutch lives revolve around water in one way or another.
The love-hate relationship with water began in the 1200s when the natives began reclaiming land from the sea; land that now forms most of the Netherlands. The fact that the country is below sea level is for some astounding, and for others more than a little disconcerting.

However you perceive the precarious situation with the sea and this water-logged country, the fact is without the abundance of water the Netherlands wouldn't quite be the same.

Leiden's attraction is for me 100% linked to the canals that wind around the city streets and the boats that line the waterways. Amsterdam's remarkable character is also attributable to the waterways that run through the city. If you have experienced a Queen's Day in the Dutch capital, watching the parade of colourful party boats stream along the canals in procession, you will know what I mean.

It is not only cities, towns and villages which benefit from the water situation in the Netherlands. There are fascinating museums and attractions too which only exist because of the Dutch struggle with the sea. A perfect example of this is the Deltapark Neeltje Jans, a water theme park in Zeeland built around the storm surge barrier which protects the Netherlands against the forces of the sea. A visit to the north of the country to Ecomare or the Waddeneilanden (Dutch Friesan islands) also makes for a great trip out: try mudwalking or island hopping!

My favourite result of all this water in the Netherlands is the abundance of windmills which line the Dutch horizon. I love watching the turning sails of traditional windmills on the landscape, walking around Kinderdijk and taking boat trips on de Kagerplassen to get a close up of tradition in motion. Then there is ice-skating. The tradition of ice-skating in the Netherlands is an ancient one, and this last winter was particulalry cold. I was delighted to see what I had heard so much about - the Dutch taking to ponds, lakes and canals with their freshly sharpened skates. It was a fascinating sight for a Brit who had never so much as stood upon a frozen body of water before!

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