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The Netherlands and Holland - Holidays, Flights and Hotels

The Netherlands

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A remarkable aspect of the Netherlands is the flatness of the country. About half of its surface area is less than 1 metre (3.3 ft) above sea level, and large parts of it are actually below sea level (see map showing these areas). An extensive range of dykes and dunes protects these areas from flooding. Numerous massive pumping stations keep the ground water level in check. The highest point, the Vaalserberg, in the south-eastern most point of the country, is 321 metres (1,053 ft) above sea level. A substantial part of the Netherlands, for example, all of Flevoland (the largest man-made island in the world) and large parts of Holland, has been reclaimed from the sea. These areas are known as polders. This has led to the saying "God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.

In years past, the Dutch coastline has changed considerably due to human intervention and natural disasters. Most notable in terms of land loss are the 1134 storm, which created the archipelago of Zeeland in the south west, and the 1287 storm, which killed 50,000 people and created the Zuyderzee (now dammed in and renamed the IJsselmeer - see below) in the northwest, giving Amsterdam direct access to the sea. The St. Elizabeth flood of 1421 and the mismanagement in its aftermath destroyed a newly reclaimed polder, replacing it with the 72 square kilometres (28 sq mi) Biesbosch tidal floodplains in the south-centre. The most recent parts of Zeeland were flooded during the North Sea Flood of 1953 and 1,836 people were killed, after which the Delta Plan was executed.

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The Netherlands is generally considered a safe country. However, be alert in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and other large cities that are plagued by pickpockets and bicycle theft (the latter almost being a national sport). In the larger cities, certain areas are unsafe at night. A small number are also unsafe in daylight.

Police, ambulance and fire brigade have one general emergency number 112. There is one police force, organised in 25 police regions. Mostly visitors will deal with the regional police. Some specialised forces, such as the railway police and the highway police on main roads, are run by a separate national force (highway police being the KLPD - Korps Landelijke Politie Diensten, and railway police being the spoorwegpolitie). When calling 112, if you can, advise on what emergency services you are in need of.

Border controls, and port and airport security, are handled by a separate police force, the Marechaussee (or KMAR - Koninklijke Marechaussee). They are an independent service of the Dutch armed forces (making them a military service, not a civil one), and have among their duties the mentioned security tasks.

In most cities, there are municipal services (stadswacht, toezichthouder or stadstoezicht) with some police tasks, e.g., issuing parking and litter fines. They often have police-style uniforms to confer some authority, but their powers are limited. For instance, only the police carry a gun.