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National Geographic publishes in 20 languages around the world. Who better to point you to the best places to see in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five must–see destinations.
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Aart Aarsbergen

“We want to make a good Dutch version of an American magazine,” says Aart Aarsbergen, editor of National Geographic Nederland–BelgiŽ.

That simply stated goal is what drives Aarsbergen and his staff of seven to strive for clean translations of the original English–language stories, timely production, and supplemental short articles, or sidebars, that are of interest to Dutch–speaking readers. One such supplemental piece was produced for a recent story on diamonds. “The city of Antwerp is a very important diamond market in the Netherlands,” Aarsbergen says. “The sidebar gave our readers a closer look at the role Antwerp plays in the international diamond trade.”

A recent survey of the magazine’s readers, however, concluded that Dutch readers—who generally tend to be well traveled—prefer reading about strange and exotic places in the rest of the world. “One of the most rewarding things about my job is that I work for a high–quality magazine that gives the readers exactly what they want,” says the editor.

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Choosing his five favorite destinations was a tall order for the former historian and publisher, who was torn between which of two places should take the top honor. Heres what he ultimately decided:

1. Rotterdam
Almost completely destroyed during World War II, Rotterdam—in the southwest part of the Netherlands and the city where I spent my youth—has been largely rebuilt. New buildings and modern architecture shape the citys skyline. One of the most ambitious recent projects is called Kop van Zuid (Head of the South), a new city center on the south bank of the Nieuw Maas River that integrates residential and work areas. Warehouses have been redesigned into residences, and the former headquarters for Holland America Cruises has been converted into Hotel New York. The name is appropriate. With all of the new construction, Rotterdam is now called Manhattan of the Maas. Visitors will enjoy strolling along the Wilhelmina Pier and stopping by the trendy shops and international restaurants. The new Luxor Theater offers performances by world–class artists. The Erasmus Bridge, a city landmark called The Swan because of its shape, connects the Kop van Zuid with the north side of the river. The new look and bustling activity of the area has turned Rotterdam into a more hip city.

2. Amsterdam
The best way to experience Amsterdam, the countrys largest city, is to stroll along the network of picturesque canals. Cafes, shops, and narrow brick houses from the 17th and 18th centuries line the waterways. Some stand out of kilter as the piles that support them gradually sink into the marshy subsoil. Despite the high number of cars, Amsterdams narrow streets give it an intimate feeling. And it stands out as a center of culture. The Rijksmuseum, of a standard equal to the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid, exhibits the works of such Dutch masters as Rembrandt and Vermeer. The beautiful building, opened in 1885, is a blend of neo–Gothic and neo–Renaissance architectural styles. The much more contemporary Van Gogh Museum opened in 1973 and exhibits a collection of more than 200 paintings and 500 drawings by Vincent van Gogh as well as 700 letters he wrote to his brother, Theo.

3. Texel Island
We dont have much of what is thought of as real nature in the Netherlands, but we come close with the very important tidal landscape called Waddenzee. The five islands that make up the Wadden Islands to the north are the vestiges of an ancient chain of sand dunes that stretched as far back as Jutland in Denmark. The largest of the islands, Texel, is my personal favorite. Its a quiet place with white–sand beaches, wide and high dunes, coniferous forests, colorful fishing boats, and polders. The small neighborhoods and villages in the center of the island have an aged beauty about them. Families spend holidays bicycling around the island and glimpsing the hundreds of bird species that nest and breed here. Every June the island hosts the worlds largest catamaran race. Right now, islanders are preparing festivities in anticipation of the late April arrival of the Duyfken, a replica of a 1606 Dutch trading ship. To mark the 400th anniversary of the original United East India Company, a Dutch and Australian crew set out from Sidney on May 5, 2001 to sail the historic spice route from Jakarta to Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Cape Town, St. Helena, Ascension Island, the Azores, and The Netherlands. The voyage, which will cover 18,200 nautical (21,000 statute) miles over a period of 12 months, will be the longest reenactment journey ever made in an Age of Discovery replica ship.

4. Oosterscheldedam
In 1953 a tidal wave crashed through the dikes in the southern province of Zeeland, flooding the islands and killing 1,835 people. Almost five years later the government launched a dam project consisting of a series of primary and secondary dams. The massive Delta Works took nearly 30 years to complete. Of all of the dams, Oosterscheldedam is the most impressive. The flood barrier stretches almost two miles (three kilometers) long and consists of 65 pillars between which 62 steel floodgates operate. When the sea becomes dangerous, it takes only one hour to lower the gates. Near the dam, visitors can tour the Delta Expo, a museum and exhibit that describes how the dams were built, how areas of the sea have been controlled, and the relationship between the Netherlands and the sea. Each year guests from Canada, Japan, the United States, and the rest of Europe come to see the dam from the inside and take guided tours of the dams and flood–control devices. Cruising along the Oosterscheldedam in a small ship is a fabulous experience.     

5. Groninger Museum
This is a showcase in the northern city of Groningen, capital of the province by the same name. The eclectic post–Modern complex is as worthy of seeing as the diverse art collections inside. To reflect that diversity, different architects and designers were asked to contribute to the museums design. The result is a strong Italian influence at the entrance, a golden tower featuring a colorful mosaic staircase inside designed by Alessandro Mendini. Michele De Lucchi designed red brick cladding on the lower part of the west pavilion. And Philippe Starck added his touch to the Decorative Arts section: a circular pavilion divided by meandering curtains and surrounded by a glass case. The whimsy of the museum really stands out in a city known for its serious, no–nonsense attitude.

Photographs by Richard P. Nowitz (left), Dave Bartruff, CORBIS (center), and Ric Ergenbright, CORBIS. E-mail this page to a friend

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