Netherlands and Belgium
The Netherlands, sometimes called "Holland" after its principal provinces, is a beautiful country reclaimed from the sea.
- Amsterdam is both a charming canal city and a free-wheeling den of legalized prostitution and marijuana. Walk along the grachtengordel (the network of canals in the old city) and take a canal tour boat to get the best of the city. The top museums are the Rijksmuseum (Dutch masters, including Rembrandt's The Night Watch), Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank Huis. The Heineken Experience is also a fun time. Just outside the city, Zaanse Schans offers a touristy but fun look at rural Dutch life, including several windmills. Food: get bitterballen (fried beef balls) at a pub. Try Indonesian food.
Belgium is an oft-overlooked destination, but offers some beautiful towns (such as Bruges), excellent food, and hundreds of varieties of beer. It's said that Belgian food is "French quality with German portions," which is better than the other way around! They invented "French" fries, and other specialties include chocolate, waffles, and mussels. The northern half (Flanders) mostly speaks Dutch, and the southern half (Wallonia) mostly speaks French, although Brussels is also mostly French-speaking despite also being the captial of Flanders.
- Brussels is a convenient train changeover spot, with some nice museums, a beautiful main square (la Grand Place), a curious city mascot (the Mannekin Pis), and lots of great restaurants.
- Bruges (or Brugge), the "Venice of the North," is a beautifully preserved medieval town with hundreds of canals.
- Gent is a historic town in Flanders
- Antwerp is sometimes called the "gold capital of Europe"
- Mons, in Wallonia, is home to the NATO headquarters