The Kingdom of Netherland was formed in 1815.
In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate
kingdom. Netherland remained neutral in World
War I but suffered a brutal invasion and occupation
by Germany in World War II. A modern, industrialized
nation, the Netherland 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 euro in 1999.
Netherland is a prosperous
and open economy in which the government has
successfully reduced its role since the 1980s.
Industrial activity is predominantly in food
processing, chemicals, petroleum refining,
and electrical machinery. A highly mechanized
agricultural sector employs no more than 4%
of the labor force but provides large surpluses
for the food-processing industry and for exports.
The Dutch rank third worldwide in value of
agricultural exports, behind the US and France.
Netherland successfully addressed the issue
of public finances and stagnating job growth
long before its European partners. This has
helped cushion the economy from a slowdown
in the euro area. Strong 3.8% GDP growth in
1998 was followed by an only slightly lower
3.4% expansion in 1999. The outlook remains
favorable, with real GDP growth in 2000 projected
at 3.25%, along with a small budget surplus.
The Dutch were among the first 11 EU countries
establishing the euro currency zone on 1 January
Netherland has managed to
combine liberal attitudes with one of the
most orderly societies on earth, in a community
that manages to be radical and sensible without
being silly or staid. 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.
For travellers, the integration
of the clog and the microchip works well.
Netherland is easy to travel in and the locals
are friendly and speak excellent English,
but towns are still surrounded by canals and
castle walls, the endlessly flat landscape
which inspired the nation's early artists
still stretches unbroken to the horizons,
and the dykes still occasionally threaten
to give way.
Netherland has spawned a
realm of famous painters starting with Hieronymous
Bosch whose 15th-century religious works are
charged with fear, distorted creatures and
agonised people. Rembrandt, with his use of
light and shadow, created shimmering religious
scenes and led the historic artists of the
golden age. Frans Hals and Jan Vermeer were
the contemporary masters of portraiture and
daily life scenes, two revolutionary themes
which became popular due to the decline in
the influence of the church as patron of the
arts. Although Vincent van Gogh's (1853-90)
spent much of his life in Belgium and France,
he is very much claimed by the Dutch as one
of their own. His early works, including the
dour Potato Eaters, were painted in his homeland,
but the later impressionistic works were greatly
influenced by French artists. A little later,
Piet Mondriaan introduced his cubic De Stijl
movement, while this century has seen the
perplexing designs of Maurits Escher.
Cycling is the most
popular activity, and the smooth cycle paths
are also used a lot by in-line skaters. Windsurfing
and sailing have a lot of fans in the waterlogged
provinces of Friesland and Zeeland. If it's
cold enough in winter it's possible to make
long ice-skating tours from town to town along
connecting canals. Wadlopen is a serious pastime
- strenuous and at times dangerous - involving
long low-tide walks in mud that can come up
to your thighs. Yes, people really do this.
Groningen, in the north, is the best place
to organise your mud-walking excursion.
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