|The Netherlands is a land
of paradox. It can be creative, tolerant and bohemian, but at other
times, puritan, judgemental and rather sterile in its outward appearance.
For centuries it has been the refuge of artists, deviants and persecuted
minorities and is renowned for its liberal stance on sex and drugs.
Some think it has gone too far and that the superficial drop in drug related
crime conceals a sinister background of organised crime. It is the
only place I have been accosted several times in a few minutes in broad
daylight and asked if I wanted "something for the weekend" of the illicit
type. Parts of Amsterdam are quite shocking to a prude, but eventually
it all subsides into a blur and you are left confused as to whether you
really want Indonesian food, marijuana or uncomplicated sex.
Out in the provinces there are cute, manicured towns
and villages, competing with anything Switzerland can offer in terms of
cleanliness and sterility. It cannot, however, compete with the
mountains and that is probably why Netherlands has more bikes per capita
than anywhere else in the civilised world...and no Olympic ski champions.
It has an excellent, effective and cheap railway
system and the trams are so user friendly you wonder why London has to be so
anal about its public transport. You just get on at your leisure and
ask the friendly conductor for a ticket to wherever; he hands you the
ticket, happily gives you change and even tells you where to get off (as it
Despite the highest population density in Europe it
does not seem overcrowded, and is vastly less stressful than the UK or
Germany. Rates very high on my list of places to live and could be top
if not for their rather unpleasant, guttural language.