First international European trip (of this round) completed! 6 days in Holland, covering Utrecht, Gouda, Delft, Den Haag, Leiden, Haarlem, and Amsterdam. More locations than days, but how?
Leiden Windmill by the former home of Rembrandt
Simple – the towns are less than a 30 minute train ride from the next (we were able to see most of these areas from the tower of the Nieu Kerk in Delft), it’s winter and few things (especially in the smaller centres) are open, and it was really freaking windy.
We spent some time in the gorgeous (and heavily touristy) Amsterdam and Rotterdam (which if you know nothing of the city, except the descriptions from Orson Scott Card books, is quite a surprise. Actually, it is quite a surprise anyway with modern slanty skyscrapers with light up windmills on them or the Transporters statues..)the last time I was in Europe, but after 3 weeks of fairly intensive travel, most of our time was spent lounging in parks, despite the weather (I wore the same amount of layers in January as I did in June last time!) It was nice to return and branch into the smaller centres, and with tourism down, see more of the “Dutch” life-style.
For some reason, our trips continuously have us leaving the house before 5:30 am. Thankfully we did not have another repeat of Birmingham with snow, and the nice Airport coach man let us on only 20p short of the fare (for some reason, there is no bank machine between my home and the bus depot – 20 minutes away down a commercial street).
We flew into Amsterdam but took a quick train to Utrecht, where we were welcomed with beautiful weather. Rather hungry, we found a lovely cafe called Keek for some tomato soup and toast (which they dressed with cracked pepper, a rather excellent addition!). Once lunch was finished, Utrecht weather decided to become miserable! We decided to walk through the Central Museum and the Dick Bruna Huis (the graphic artist responsible for Miffy, the rabbit – who is a girl because Dick doesn’t like to draw trousers, apparently).
Rietveld Schroder House
The nice thing about England is that many museums are free, however the ones that have admission are costly and concession rates are either not worth it or they demand student cards from the area; in Europe, museums are rarely free, but student rates cut admission usually in half, and you can present any old U of S student card, with details and picture rubbed out and still be let in. Whether this applies for all schools or if they just panic when they see “Saskatchewan”, I do not know. These museums were quite good and very informative about the artists and the works themselves, handy as it has been many years since my Dutch art studies.
We attempted to visit the Rietveld Shroder House, the best example of De Stijl architecture. A man in satin gloves told us we needed a reservation for the tour; we may have not gotten to see the moveable walls inside, but the exterior is still pretty amazing, as was the man in satin gloves.
Part of "Trajectum Lumen" in Utrecht
Most of our time in Utrecht was spent just wandering; we did experience the madness of grocery stores on a Sunday (closed until 4pm, about 50 people were lining up outside of the grocer waiting for the doors to open), and met the lovely Jesse for lunch, in which I had a Pineapple and Cheese Toastie – I was leery of dipping it in the provided ketchup, but in the end it was similar to lazy-man pizza, and most of Trajectum Lumen (light displays on buildings, streets, and canals – quite fun following a light up path in the road, unfortunately, not all light displays were turned out).
We stopped in Gouda and Delft on our way to Den Haag. Unfortunately, the Waag (cheese weighing house) and Cheese Market in Gouda were closed for the winter, but they have a lovely Church with massive stained glass windows depicting the story of John the Baptist and the most ornate organ I have seen (for shame, Westminster). The Oude and Nieu Kerk’s in Delft were very impressive, particularly tower in the Nieu Kerk. Not quite the climb of the tower in Cologne, it had such a great view (ignoring the Ikea monstrosity) of surrounding areas.
Den Haag, oh, Den Haag: A city with a crisis of character. Not the capital, but the site of Parliament and residence of the Royal family. A mix of old architecture mirror the beauty of Amsterdam and other areas, and new financial institutions without the charms of those in Rotterdam. Museums, however, plentiful and excellent, and a hub for travel to Scheveningen (by the sea).
Peace Palace in Den Haag - built just before outbreak of WWI (guess it didn't work)
Due to very poor weather, we did not make it to the sea. We did visit the Escher museum, which was informative about the artist and his works. Explaining his fascination and the incorporation of infinity and eternity in his work. It was also housed in the Lange Voorhout Palace, beautifully decorated and with obscure (skull, bomb, fish) shaped chandeliers in each room. We couch surfed with a lovely woman from Germany; I had a bad head cold and it was nice to get out of hostels and have a few decent nights sleep!
On our way to Amsterdam, we stopped in Leiden and Haarlem, I presume to be lovely places to wander when the sun is out. With beautiful architecture and canals, markets, cafes, art, and windmills, had it been the summer – I would have liked to take my time in both towns. The rain decided to pelt down on us making it virtually impossible to see, making our journey into Amsterdam come slightly quicker.
We were relieved of rain in Amsterdam and were able to take in walks through the Jordaan and Jewish Quarters, some archictectual walks – we found the widest house in Amsterdam and the second smallest, we may have found the smallest but while the addresses corresponded, the actual look of the house and of the picture in the book looked nothing alike. We walked through the flower markets (I can’t believe how cheap flowers are!!), a flea market, and the Albert Cuyp Market, saw a show we previously missed and visited some of the cats, and visited the Jewish Historical Museum, housed in the Old Synagogue, which focused largely on Jewish traditions and the lives of the Dutch Jewish people – from their arrival, success, when they went into hiding, and reintigration. It left the story of the Holocaust and the horrors largely to the Anne Frank House and focused on the lives and impact of the Dutch Jewish families.
View from Nieu Kerk Tower, Delft
While the weather did not allow for skating, the trip was enjoyable and we came across several things that our first trip into Holland has us miss. Mainly, the windmills. We had to actively seek out a windmill last time, finally finding one thanks to a statue pointing across a canal at it in Rotterdam. We stumbled upon many a windmill this round.
Also noted: Old Dutch men are hilarious and very friendly; stroopwaffles are delicious, but one of those strange foods where pre-packaged triumphs over fresh; Flowers are cheap, I almost bought some to take over the smell of weed in the hostel; Some workers still wear cloggs; and the closer to Gouda you are, the cheaper cheese is (I am not sure if the same goes for Edam).
Finally, I leave you with a note on the type of hostel behaviour that will get you bludgeoned in your sleep if you are in certain parts of the world:
Amsterdam "Flasher" Building
While there are some amounts of leeway in acceptable behaviour in Amsterdam hostels, purely due to the certain activities most tourists partake in, there are some general rules:
– Unless everyone else in your room agrees, do not smoke in your room. If you intend of lounging with the lights off at 1am, getting up occasionally to smoke, know where it is, have it ready to go, and don’t forget your key.
– Do not wake up the whole room at 6am, searching under beds and behind bags, looking for your bong.
– If you are in a room with people you do not know (and even if you do), don’t spread your toiletries through the bathroom like you would at home, or at the very least, put the lid on your toothpaste and hair gel, don’t flood the sink, and for whatever reason they are there, please pick up your soggy cigarettes from the shower.