A center for commerce, art, and ideas, the Low Countries have been a critical European crossroads for centuries. Fronting the North Sea and laced with rivers and canals, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg have benefited from easy access to trade and have learned to control these waters, as much of their sea-adjacent land is below sea level. A region both rich with history and buzzing as the modern-day epicenter of the European Union, the Low Countries have many fascinating layers to reveal. Our new expedition, Coastal Powers of the North: Medieval Capitals and Vibrant Cultures, shines a light on the often under-the-radar achievements and special places in the Low Countries. Join us as we visit the world’s first multinational corporation, the planet’s only UNESCO-designated museum, the hallowed halls of the European Parliament, and more on this voyage that provides a wide-ranging understanding of this intriguing region, past and present.
Dutch East India Company Experience
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) was a powerful global force that fueled Amsterdam’s ascent to become one of the wealthiest cities in the world. While the Dutch West India Company’s routes mostly covered North and South America and the Caribbean, the Dutch East India Company focused on Southeast Asia, dominating the valuable global spice trade during the city’s Golden Age of Sail. Extending past its trade monopoly, the VOC’s powers included the ability to establish colonies, start wars, and negotiate treaties. Guests on this voyage will embark on extensive and immersive walking tours of the city that will bring the far-reaching history of the world’s first multinational corporation—and the first company to issue shares— to life including visits to the world's first stock exchange and the manor house of one of the VOC’s founders, as well as seeing the exterior of the current stock exchange.
D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station
One of 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Netherlands, the D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station is a masterpiece of engineering—and the largest steam-powered pumping station in the world that is still in operation today. With hydraulic power capable of draining an Olympic-sized swimming pool in 35 seconds, the station is a testament to the skills and ingenuity of Dutch engineers and architects who have led the way globally in taming the forces of water. The station was built in 1920 to prevent the flooding of large areas of low-lying Friesland thereby protecting residents, their land and livestock, and infrastructure. The station is notable for still successfully carrying out its initial function today, with its pumping power initiated during the region’s high-water season. In addition, the imposing pumping station structure itself functions as a sea barrier.
If asked to guess which museum in The Netherlands or Belgium is protected by UNESCO, Antwerp’s Plantin-Moretus Museum would probably not make the list. However, this elegant mansion that was for centuries the home of a printing dynasty is the world’s only museum with a UNESCO designation, putting it on par with the Pyramids and Roman Forum. In this unique museum, you can see the world’s oldest printing presses and the first-ever letter of the Garamond font; a priceless collection of art including family portraits painted by Peter Paul Rubens, and 25,000 works printed before 1800. The museum’s well-preserved archive spans the years 1555 to 1876 and provides exceptional insight into not only the publishing business but also European culture as a whole over time periods that include significant movements such as humanism and the Counter-Reformation.
European Union Experience
With 27 member states representing 447 million people, the European Union is the third-largest economy after the United States and China, and its impact in the “advancement of peace, democracy, and human rights” was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. To gain perspective on the creation of the European Union and to understand its influence today as a superpower on the world stage, in Brussels we will visit respectively the House of European History and the European Parliament. Opened in 2017 to provide context about the development of the European Union, the House of European History is a unique museum that endeavors to paint a picture of the forces behind the European countries and peoples throughout modern history that led to the formation of the E.U.
It’s a thrill to enter the European Parliament Hemicycle where members gather to debate and decide policy with far-reaching implications. In a visit that includes background information provided by a parliament staff member and a Q&A session, guests will learn about the functions of this influential international, multilingual institution.
Raise a Pint with Locals
In addition to waffles and fries, Belgian beer is world famous: Belgium produces more than 1,500 brands with upwards of 700 taste profiles. In fact, the unique character of Belgian beer is so valued that UNESCO has deemed it “an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” Some of world's most well-known beers come from Belgium, like Leffe, which have been produced by Trappist monks for centuries. In Antwerp guests will have the opportunity to learn about the important place beer has in Belgian culture while sampling a variety of different styles of Belgian beer in a guided tasting with locals that will include a Q&A.