The Low Countries: Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg lie mostly below sea level and have thus been subject to repeated disastrous flooding. The tenacious Dutch have not only reclaimed the land from the floodwaters again and again, but they have also created solid land where once there was only water. An extensive series of dams, dikes, canals and natural waterways crisscrosses the fertile countryside, and one of the world’s most ambitious hydroelectric projects has protected Holland from the ravages of the North Sea since 1953.
Amsterdam’s waterways run for miles throughout the city and are both beautiful and functional, carrying commuters and sightseers around the city. They are crossed by more than 500 bridges, the oldest dating to 1648. Look for the wooden double drawbridge and the “Skinny Bridge” that spans the Amstel River and is featured in innumerable paintings. They also host an array of houseboats of all descriptions; some are modest and some more elaborate, but they are all decorated with flowers. The best way to get a comprehensive overview of the city is to take a canal cruise in one of its many glass-topped boats. A typical cruise goes into the harbor and along the city’s three main canals: the Gentlemen’s Canal, King’s Canal and Prince’s Canal, where you will see some of the city’s oldest and loveliest gabled houses and towers and many of the houseboats and bridges.