Two weeks ago I told you that I was off to visit my brother in Holland for 5 days, and that I was so excited about the trip that I couldn’t think about anything else.
For many years I had wanted to visit the Netherlands, famous for its beauty and liberalism, where people are lovely, and where apparently tulips and marihuana grow everywhere. Tulips, yes, I’ve seen them but if there are any ganja fields, they are hiding them really well …
I’ve been back in London for over a week and I’m still replaying in my head the best moments of this short visit. I still can see under my eyelids the vibrant colours of this land.
I stayed in Leiden, a really cute University town near Amsterdam, and used it as a base to explore Holland. I have to agree with the general concept that this country is best explored on two wheels. Holland really is a cyclist’s paradise. It is as flat as a frying pan and so tiny that you can reach most places within 30-40 minutes of very pleasant cycling (unless it is raining or windy, which it does all the time). So I too, in a spirit of the old saying that if Rome do as Romans do, braved the bike for the first time in a decade – you do not cycle in London unless you are suicidal or plain crazy – and took a few bike rides to see the countryside.
Netherlands is a truly gorgeous country – everywhere: the towns and the country side, the sea shores, the canals and the lakes. The first thing that hits you when you leave the airport is how lush, juicily green and perfect it is. The countryside looks like it’s from a beautiful fairy tale. Pretty villages are built to almost entirely blend in with the land. You can barely see the houses among the vegetation. Settlements are surrounded by lakes and canals with ever present weeping willows and pretty little bridges. Surprisingly for so densely populated a country, there is an abundance of wild life. I was woken up one day by the frogs singing at 4am! And there are wild rabbits hopping around near the lake. The green land with manicured grass stretches to the horizon, criss-crossed with multicolours of flower fields and yes, the windmills, everywhere! Very pretty indeed.
Two days of my Netherlands adventure my brother and I devoted entirely to Amsterdam. The first day, a Saturday, we spent on pointless but very joyful wandering around absorbing the city’s feel. We paced along the canals appreciating the charming architecture, wondering why the Dutch built such tall houses with such huge windows…. They have the biggest and completely uncovered windows I have ever seen. Everyone is invited to peek though and have a good look inside. No secrets. Really striking for someone from a country where everyone guards their privacy and keeps their life behind closed curtains.
We wandered from café to café, tried the famous herring sandwiches and chocolate waffles, and went for lunch to the newly opened food market, De Foodhallen. It’s a converted old tram garage in to a indoor food marked, a place that in London would be immediately proclaimed a “Hipsters zone.” It’s probably the best food in town. The best coffee, cakes, sandwiches and wraps, burgers and hotdogs, Vietnamese, butchers, fishmongers, cheers shops, and so much more. If you go to Amsterdam, don’t miss it, it’s great stuff.
I wanted to try the famous G’s Boat branch bar which I heard about from a lovely girl I met on the plane, but unfortunately we couldn’t get a table. Shame, maybe next time… however if you are reading this big thanks for other tips!
The afternoon was spent exploring The Nine Little Streets (Dutch: De Negen Straatjes) with the best independent boutiques in Dam. These are really charming little streets where you can get handmade jewellery and truly unique clothing, and there are plenty of antique and artisan shops too. Late afternoon we poped in to a little cafe to warm up as the setting evening got a bit chilly, where I got probably the best hot chocolate with spiced rum i ever had.
The last stop that night was the Red Light district, where the ladies of the night show off their goods in red lit windows – BTW the huge Dutch windows definitely help in that business, and where the most buzzing night life happens. Bars, nightclubs, coffeeshops (those coffeeshops) and sex businesses also in the form of sex museums that stay open until midnight (!) summarise it all. Busy, loud and garish, but not lacking a certain appeal. Everything is legal and within the law, controlled, taxed and relatively safe – so why not? If this is your cup of tea Amsterdam is the best place in Europe to enjoy it.
My second day in Amsterdam I spent more productively and culturally. I hired a bike and went on a museum search. First stop the Rijksmuseum, recently refurbished and a marvel in itself. Look at those fantastic ceilings! It’s an amazing experience when the sunlight plays in those cages. The Rembrandt exhibition was definitively worth my 18 Euros.
After that there was the most famous Dutch city park, The Vondelpark, where everyone seems to either ride a bike, or have a barbeque. A lovely place and like all things in Holland really relaxing and liberal. You can smoke there, drink or have a bbq .
Next, the Micropia, the only museum in Europe and maybe in the world dedicated to micro organisms. You will want to wash your hands after a visit in there… fascinating and a very well organised modern museum, completely interactive and NOT BORING despite the subject! Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures from Micropia- my camera rune out of batteries (I’m such a doughnut sometimes), but here is a little youtube link where you can see how its like in side. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kk7PzYCiiD8
There was supposed to be one more stop that day but I had to give my bike back by 5.45pm near Central Station. I realised at 5:15pm, still in Micropia, that I had only 30 minutes to get it back (and they are strict in Holland – no one is late anywhere, not even the national trains!). Otherwise I may as well cycle to London on it, since they would charge me 450 Euros for a lost bike. I was pedalling like a madwoman through the town, breaking probably all possible cycling rules and trying not to end up either under a tram or in canal to make it in time.
I did it! Can you believe it – across a foreign city, with my navigation skills, only on memory and by counting the canals, 5 minutes before closing! I couldn’t, and neither did my brother or my husband when I told them. They think am a liar! I think it’s one of my biggest achievements this year!
Go to Holland girls if you can. See Amsterdam but not exclusively because the countryside is really great too. In all honesty I’m not sure myself which I preferred. The iconic city or the gloriously lush landscapes …
I’m going back, for sure!