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Rotterdam, Amsterdam

Rotterdam, Amsterdam - Baltic Cruises - Northern Europe Cruises -

Few cities rebounded as quickly and magnificently as Rotterdam following the Nazi invasion, which leveled the medieval heart of the town and burned most of its structures to the ground. Today, some of Europe's most daring contemporary architecture can be found amid classic 18th- and 19th-century buildings in this picturesque gateway to the Netherlands.

THE OTHER WHITE HOUSEOne of the few sites to survive the 1940 bombing was the 10-story Witte Huls, or White House, which in 1897 was dedicated as one of the tallest private structures in Europe. Today, the White House stands as a traditional anchor of the very modern Hofplein business district, with its glass and steel high-rise office buildings. For a bird's-eye view of the city, head to the top of the 600-foot Euromast and look for the restored Groote Kerk, which stands defiantly as the city's principal religious center.

The region's vast network of intricate and sometimes narrow waterways leads northward to breathtaking Amsterdam, home to the impressive Van Gogh Museum and the Gothic Westerkirk Church. It is here, in this former financial heart of Europe, where you'll find the house where Anne Frank was hidden from the Nazis and composed her famous diary. And no visit to Amsterdam would be complete with a stop at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, billed as the world's largest flower mart.

Venture outside the city to nearby Gouda, known the world over for its delicious cheese. Encased in its signature bright red packaging, this famous dairy delicacy makes for a perfect afternoon snack as you explore the Dutch town's glorious windmills and canals.

In the nearby river town of Delft, visit the factory where the exquisite blue-and-white Delft pottery is produced or take a boat tour along its many bridge-laced canals. This quaint city is also the home of Jan Vermeer, one of Holland's finest Golden Age painters.

Choose from a wide variety of Dutch beers and wines to complement your selection of cheeses, or satisfy your sweet tooth with a traditional spekpannekoek -- an oversized pancake stuffed with bits of bacon and served with fruit syrup or molasses. Handicrafts and one-of-a-kind carvings are available throughout the region, so remember: If the wooden shoe fits, buy it!

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